Monthly Archives: January 2014

Chip Timing

My quest to integrate Chip Timing into Good Times started last year when I realized I could time much larger races, as well as give timing companies a new software alternative (one that I’m confident is many orders of magnitude easier than the top alternatives available today.)  This seemed to make lots of sense to me; timing a race with chips just had too many positives to ignore.

Of course, each RFID chip timing system manufacturer has their own complexities that software providers like Good Times Software have to deal with.  And in some cases, the actual technology in the chip system hardware is, well, archaic.  Thankfully some of the major providers are ahead of the pack and fairly easy to work with.

When considering how to time a race using chips, it’s really the various scenarios of running events that introduce the majority of complexities.  For example, consider that most of the chip timing systems begin “registering a hit” or “logging a chip” any time that chip is within close proximity to the receiver pad which lies nicely over the starting line, finish line, split locations, etc.  And it’s not just a single hit that is registered… hundreds, sometimes thousands of hits are made when the chip continues to stay in close proximity to the receiver pad, like at the start of the race when runners are just standing there waiting for the starting gun to fire.  So at the start of the race when you have a hundred participants lined up, you have hundreds or thousands of hits being registered for each one of those participants.  That’s a lot of data to sort through!

The difficulty, however, is that when the starting gun fires and the runners eventually run away from the starting line, the software really only needs the last hit, which signifies the runner actually leaving the receiver pad.  Out of all that data, you need just the last one for the runner as he/she leaves the starting line (similarly, you only need the first hit when runners come to the finish line.)  Fortunately, some of the chip systems flag that “last hit,” making it easier to find in the data.  But what if a runner waiting patiently at the starting line, registering hits, notices their shoe is untied right before the start of the race and steps out of line to tie it?  The runner then comes back to the starting line and takes off with the rest of the participants when the starting gun fires.  Now, the chip system has logged two hits as the “last hit.”

Readers, that’s just one of many scenarios to deal with.  Shared start/finish lines, event routes that have loops and shared split locations, and a host of other scenarios complicate things and present challenges.

At the time of this writing, none of the videos on our YouTube Channel cover RFID Chip Timing Systems.  But if you haven’t seen our videos about how to time a race or race event registration, please check them out.

Bright Idea

More than once I’ve setup for a race only to be hammered by sunlight or rain.  Weather may not be that big of a deal for hardcore runners, but it can definitely be a big deal for all of the equipment in use: laptops, a wireless router, printer, numerous power strips, etc.  It’s very important to protect all of these from the elements, so plan carefully.

I’ve seen many event directors provide suitable protection from rain, typically in the form of tents or canopies.  But one factor frequently neglected is the sunlight and the horrendous impact it can have on your event personnel.  (No, I’m not talking about exposure to sunlight that may lead to a great tan or worse, sunburn!)  Bright sunlight can cause terrible glares on computer screens and make them nearly impossible to see.  Whether it’s someone timing the race or someone else handling on-site race day registration, you can be sure they’ll loathe the computer screen affected by bright sunlight.  That will lead to delays and can negatively affect the success of your event.

When thinking about how to time a race or what race timing software to use, don’t forget to plan for the non-technical aspects, too.  Here are two types of commercial laptop shades, but I’ve see many DIY (do it yourself) kinds as well.

Laptop Shade

Laptop shade – Style 1

Laptop Shade

Laptop shade – Style 2

Please check out our YouTube Channel.  I’ve uploaded numerous How-To videos, as well as a video with some thoughts on planning.  And in the future, I’ll have more which speak to these topics directly.

Online Race Registration

One of the necessary benefits for a race, especially a large one, is online pre-registration.  In fact, most of the larger races today only offer online pre-registration.  And this makes sense for the larger races; handling a multitude of participants with online pre-registration is much easier.  On race day, it simply becomes too much of a burden to manually register a large number of participants, even when you publicize and allow what should be enough time to do so.  We all know that if on-site race day registration lasts from 7:00am – 8:30am for a 9:00am start, 90% of the participants will show up at 8:20am.

When asked how to time a race, I always respond first with a question of my own: how is registration being handled?  One way or the other, all of that participant registration information (name, gender, age bracket, home town, etc.) needs to be readily accessible in whatever race timing software is used.  Online pre-registration sites usually make it easy to download registration data.  It typically involves logging on with the credentials you were given, and selecting a download link that will generate either an Excel file or a text file that you can download to your computer.  But now what?

Good Times Software comes with the Good Times Import & Export Wizard to help load that participant information into Good Times.  We also provide a Microsoft Excel template so you can open up the file you downloaded from your online pre-registration site, manipulate it in the template so the format is correct, and then re-save it so the Import & Export Wizard can read it.

This can be an easy endeavor, regardless of what online pre-registration site you use.  If you haven’t done so already, please check out the video on our YouTube Channel called: Importing Participant Information.  You’ll see an actual demonstration of using the Excel template and then importing the information using the Good Times Import & Export Wizard.

Perspective

Hello Readers,

I’m writing from sunny Orlando, Florida, and what a great time of year to be down here!  I must say, though, the weather this particular week is rather cold for Florida.  I threw on a light jacket to take a walk outside and realized Florida is in the middle of a cold spell.  It only got up to a balmy 55 today.

As I thought carefully about my next blog post, which presumably would have something to do with timing a race, race timing software, or race registration, I soon realized I should digress and mention a very cool thing I participated in today.  Our company likes to host a community volunteer event every time we all get together.  Often this ends up being putting food bags together for a food bank, or assembling toys or furniture for the homeless–something like that.  Last year we put together thousands of little pre-packaged meals (MRE’s if you’re familiar with military lingo) which were shipped overseas for starving families.  This year we did more food bags, but for local children.

The story we were told beforehand informed us that many of the schools around the central Florida region had been reporting trends of children coming to school on Monday’s feeling ill with headaches, stomach aches, etc., and quite “out of it” mentally with focus and concentration issues.  The schools’ research also found a correlation between these cases and students who were on free- or reduced-lunch programs.  Further research identified that in many cases, the school lunch on Friday was quite often the last meal for these kids until school lunch on Monday.  I know there are many people in the world much worse off than the kids in these cases, but for some reason it really touched me.  We ended up making 5,500 meal bags, each containing enough food for a kid over a weekend.

So the point of this post is just to help communicate that today’s event really made an impact on me.  Do I want you to buy Good Times software?  Absolutely… but do I need it, or do I feel like it’s important relative to the horrendous problems that plague children and others even in our own country?  Absolutely not.  I like Good Times, and it pleases me when I see people having successful running events because of what I provide in the software, but nothing compares to meeting real and tangible needs.  If you’re spending time messing around with Good Times, or my website, videos, etc. and you could be helping someone out who has some real needs and hardships, please stop what you’re doing and go help them!

Today was a great day, and put a lot of things in perspective for me.  (Again!)

Registration, Race Timing, Pancakes

Battery Power for Race TimingIt was an exciting morning one day last year, a clear and crisp Montana morning actually, and a picture perfect day for a race!  Fortunately, I ended up not needing the gadget in the picture above.  That is a Tekkeon myPower ALL MP3750 battery backup (FYI: I am not endorsing this brand nor this particular model; it’s just for illustrative purposes) that can be a lifesaver during a power outage.  I had arrived early, as usual, and had setup the site as much as possible in advance of the event staff showing up.

Even before my own small crew arrived, the humming of a gasoline-powered electrical generator broke through the crisp morning air creating confidence that no matter how crazy or busy things were to become, we’d have power!  Handling event registration or timing a race requires power, you know, of the uninterruptable kind.  A typical registration and race timing scenario using Good Times has me deploying laptops primarily, a wireless router, and a printer.

Usually, I opt not to provide commercial-grade pancake griddles as part of my registration and timing solution.  They’re big; way too big for a normal kitchen counter.  But on this particular day, the event organizer hosted a pancake breakfast.  Reader, would you like to guess where the cooks decided to plug in the griddles?  If you guessed the electrical generator, then you guessed correctly!  We may not have registered participants, nor produce race results, but we will certainly have pancakes!  I’m all for pancakes, don’t get me wrong, but not at the expense of risking the failure of my network.  I realized I needed a batter solution.  (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

Like I said, everything turned out fine, even the pancakes.  And although electrical generators are a great idea, the weak link in my setup was twofold: First, because the cooks plugged in to the generator without me knowing it, the ease of access to those generators appeared problematic.  Second, while my laptops would have been okay had pancake frenzy overloaded the generators, my wireless router would not have survived.  From that day forward, I’ll have a battery backup on my wireless router, maybe the Tekkeon or something like it.

The moral of the story: search out your weakest link, and avoid it!  To handle event registration and race timing, make sure something as innocuous as pancake griddles or as sinister as a power outage does not put the success of your event at risk.

Event Planning: Registration, Timing

Writing this post in late January brings back fond memories of this time of year: ramping up the planning efforts for one (sometimes two) of the races where I served as director for a few years.  This particular event was the primary means of raising funds for the organizer and I’m glad to say we were successful every year.  But it would never have happened without a substantial amount of planning.

While planning is important for all aspects of your event, of most interest to me is the planning elements associated with event registration and timing.  Timing a race, after all, is what makes it a race!  Though “how to time a race” is simple enough conceptually, in reality it can become complex when one considers things like: computers, software, registration data, bib distribution, electrical power, backup power, volunteer training, report generation, and last but not least, a throng of impatient runners anxious to get through the registration line and on to the starting line.

For your event, will you offer online pre-registration?  Will you offer on-site race day registration?  Maybe you will offer both.  Whatever the case, you’ll need to think about how to appropriately staff your event to make the process smooth for your participants.  Timing a race using computerized software like Good Times requires you to plan appropriately for the number of participants in your race.  A large number of participants, for example, may mean you need to have two or three people serving as timers.  Otherwise runner density at the finish line can overwhelm a single timer leading to errors.  We certainly don’t want that!

On our YouTube Channel, I’ve published a video called Planning Registration and Timing for your event that was created to give you an idea of many things you’ll want to consider.  Check it out when you have some time.