Monthly Archives: February 2014

Race Timing Backup Plan

It wasn’t all that long ago I was writing about things like: battery backup, electrical generators, etc. to make sure your high-tech timing solution doesn’t fall to its knees and leave you up the proverbial creek without a paddle.  I have a background in designing systems that are redundant and fail-safe in nature, so presumably it has carried over into how I time races.

Race timing surely isn’t a life or death situation, nor is a complete failure going to be comparable to something as major as the shutdown of a stock exchange or air traffic control.  But that doesn’t mean race timers shouldn’t have a viable backup plan.  The finest backup plan can even fail.  So what is one to do?  Your best!

While all of our chip timing coding is being integrated into Good Times, we’ve taken the time to slip in an old-fashioned technique albeit with a high-tech twist: the Tic Sheet.  Tic Sheets are invaluable for manual timing and allow a timer to record finish times in sequential order, then merge them with runner bibs also captured in sequential order to produce race results.  Fortunately, Good Times doesn’t need Tic Sheets under typical circumstances, yet the justification for having them was worth the development effort.

Consider an extremely high runner density at the finish line that would prevent the timer from recording racer bibs in Good Times.  Despite the fact that the association between elapsed time and racer bib has to be made at some time, it doesn’t actually have to be made the moment the runner crosses the finish line.  Sure, that’s the best way, but at an extremely high runner density it becomes impossible.  Enter the Tic Sheet.

The race timer captures as many racer bibs as possible, but simply records an elapsed time without the bib during high runner densities.  Periodically, the race timer also sends the Tic Sheet to the database where another race volunteer can print it when convenient.  The Tic Sheet contains all of the elapsed times, and every bib that was captured.  Bibs that were not captured can be filled in on the Tic Sheet, provided to the race timer, and entered into Good Times when convenient.

Now that’s a good backup plan to make sure you can time challenging races with a larger number of runners.  Chip timing, once released, will make it possible to time races with very large numbers of participants.  Stay tuned!

It won’t be too long and I’ll put up a video on our YouTube Channel demonstrating how to use Tic Sheets when you need them.  In the meantime, enjoy the rest of our website, or visit us on Facebook, too.  Thanks for reading!

Chip Timing and Registration

Hello again, readers, and I apologize for the delay.  I could make excuses like being sick, travel, and just overall busy.  But I’ll spare those details.

As many of you know, the ability to support RFID (chip) timing in timing software like Good Times is essential for larger races.  Our market has been races with a smaller number of participants, but with the introduction of our chip timing capabilities we’re hoping to expand that quite a bit.  And when you think about how to time a race, any race with a large number of participants will quickly convince  you to consider chip timing!

The last three use cases in development have focused on utilizing the IPICO Sports Registration Reader.  It’s a USB-connected device that transmits the Chip ID to whatever host software you’re communicating with.  Good Times uses the Registration Reader to capture a Chip ID and associate it with a participants racing bib.  For example, a participant wearing bib #123 will have a chip affixed to their shoe (or elsewhere.)  Good Times needs to know both of those things… the bib still allows Good Times to associate the participant with all of their data (name, date-of-birth, address, events for which they’re registered, etc.) and the Chip ID allows Good Times to find the bib.  The moral of the story?  Each chip must have its Chip ID captured into the Good Times software.

The Registration Reader is an easy way to accomplish capturing the Chip ID and associating it with a participants bib.  You can build up a “bib/chip cache” of dozens or hundreds of bibs, each with a Chip ID captured sequentially from the Registration Reader.  Alternatively, you can simply register a participant in real-time and have the Chip ID captured from the Registration Reader.

As we get closer to general release, we’ll publish videos on our YouTube Channel.  So stay tuned!

Race Day Madness!

Is race day stressful, busy, and overall just a crazy time?  Absolutely it is!  But it can be very rewarding, too, for all involved.  There’s a sort of thrill and sense of achievement that comes with seeing the results of your hard work lead to a successful event.

Timing a race, especially a larger one, is no trivial task on race day.  Sure, you have Good Times software ready, everything is configured, and your event staff are trained.  But now you have to look at the logistics of the day itself: getting up early, setting up before anyone else arrives on-site, having everything ready, timing the race (you’ve made sure people know how to time a race by this point, right?!) and then tearing down.

Here is a typical schedule:

  • 4:30am – Wake up, shower
  • 5:15am – Leave for the venue
  • 5:45am – Arrive, unload equipment
  • 6:00am – Setup power generators, cabling
  • 6:15am – Setup network router
  • 6:30am – Boot up all computers, test connectivity, setup printer
  • 6:50am – Ensure proper signage at registration area
  • 7:00am – Registration workers arrive
  • 7:10am – Last-minute questions from registration workers
  • 7:20am – Launch Good Times, confirm registration workers ready
  • 7:30am – Registration begins, be available to staff
  • 7:45am – Setup timing area at finish line
  • 8:15am – Briefing with timers to review plan
  • 8:40am – Cut-off registration, print Participants Report from Good Times
  • 8:50am – Briefing with starter, timers, person starting overhead clock
  • 8:55am – Last call to starting line
  • 8:59am – Thumbs up / visual from starter, timers, overhead clock
  • 9:00am – Race starts
  • 9:10am – Ensure timers are ready
  • 9:15am – Other staff to begin tearing down registration computers
  • 9:15am – Runners finishing, reports generated every five minutes
  • 9:30am – Prepare awards in Good Times
  • 10:00am – Awards ceremony
  • 10:30am – Tear down

Sounds so tidy and organized, right?  That’s a typical plan, however, it can definitely seem like madness.  Sometimes things don’t go according to schedule, people have a question, or something happens which makes you want to pull your hair out.  Whatever the case, timing a race is still fun!  It’s rewarding, and a great way to help people be healthy and experience the joys of running.

For more information about us or our race timing software, visit the Good Times Software website at GoodTimesSoftware.com, or visit our YouTube Channel.

Make Money Timing Races

How preposterous!  I mean, look at the title of this post: Make Money Timing Races.  Who would ever say such a thing, much less think it?!

Well, readers, it’s true.  You, too, can make money timing races.  It’s no secret that behind every good race is a competent and qualified person, people, or race timing company handling the registration and timing of the event.  In fact, timing a race properly is simply too much to worry about for most race directors, especially when they’re expecting a good turnout.  They need you, and if you ask them if they need you I can assure you they will say yes!

The very first race I was ever involved in paid very little attention to registration and timing.  Excel spreadsheets were king, and incompatible software laden with issues put the entire event at risk.  It took focus, luck, and pure will to make sure we could pull it off successfully.  And that was the last time I’d ever do it that way!  Soon thereafter, Good Times was born!

We’re proud to offer a Provider’s License for anyone interested in starting their own race timing company.  You can click here to learn more, but suffice it to say there is demand for timing companies who can provide professional service at a reasonable price for small- to medium-sized races.  That’s the market we serve here at Good Times Software, and it’s the market you can go after with our Provider’s License.

The sport of running continues to experience significant growth around the world.  Can you capitalize on that?  Sure you can!  Our Provider’s License allows you to get into the business at a very reasonable price, and does not burden you with royalties or fees for the events you will time.  This means you get to set your own prices, and keep your own profits.

You can learn more by visiting this page on our website, or just call us at (877) 244-5484.

Strange Situations Timing Races

Timing races for my two beta customers uncovered a few strange situations I realized I needed to accommodate.  Though I use the word strange, I think they’re more commonplace than what most people realize.  Some involve human error, and others are just how software can be designed to deal with human choice.  Let’s face it, many of us have had to work with rigid software that allows little (if any) flexibility in handling any situation not normal or expected.

During one race, a lady crossed the finish line and unbeknownst backtracked about a quarter-mile and finished a second time with her younger son.  To her, crossing the finish line a second time wasn’t a big deal, but both a fun and noble way to lend some encouragement to her little boy.  But already having her initial time registered, it created a little confusion with the race timers.

At another event, the event coordinator had already given runners their racing bibs prior to having them approach the registration area.  The starting line of the race was about three miles out from where we had setup for both registration and timing.  Participants would show up with their bibs for registration, then board a bus to be transported to the starting line.  The last bus was leaving at 10 minutes before the start of the event.  Not surprisingly, about ten participants showed up at the registration area immediately before the last bus departed.  Wanting to make sure they made the bus ride, all ten decided that since they already had their bibs they should bypass registration and just board the bus to make sure they made it to the starting line in time.

When timing a race, one also has to remember that humans are imperfect beings.  We make mistakes.  I’ve seen race timers using computerized timing and manually entering bib numbers enter the wrong bib numbers quite frequently.  In fact, I think it’s safe to say that every event has at least one entry error when using this method.  And it should be no surprise that an overly zealous runner who finishes the race and can’t find their time posted will immediately make his or her way over to the timing officials to inform them of their mistake.

Why do I mention these scenarios? Because when it comes to how to time a race, it’s important to anticipate these scenarios and know how to handle them beforehand.  Good Times provides the Event Exceptions window to help manage these scenarios.  For example, if a timer enters a wrong bib, the Event Exceptions window will show a list of all bibs entered which either do not have an associated participant, or were entered more than once.  It also shows a list of participants who have no elapsed times recorded, and makes it easy to find the erroneously entered bib, correct it, and associate it with a participant.   In the case of the 10 participants who never registered, those bibs would show up as mis-keyed bibs.  Fortunately, you can add a new participant right from the Event Exceptions window and automatically associate their elapsed time with their registration data.

These scenarios make sense when you see them; moreso than when you read about them.  So I encourage you to check out our video Handling Event Exceptions found on our YouTube Channel.

Race Timing, Timers, Clocks

Timing a race is highly dependent upon stable and accurate clocks.  If you’re timing a race using race timing software, stopwatches, big overhead athletic sports timers, or even your watch then your participants are depending upon these magical little devices to accurately do their duty without failure.

During the earliest phases of Good Times software development, I remember being introduced to the complexities of computer-based clocks.  You can probably see a clock on your screen this very moment.  What you’re actually seeing is the result of a very complex electrical process based upon the underlying technology of the particular processor chip in your device.  If you’re on a traditional computer or laptop, perhaps you’re using a processor chip from Intel.  If you’re on a tablet or smart phone, chip manufacturers vary.  But to get an accurate and usable clock (or timer) to work across these various types of processor chips requires a great deal of sophistication in electrical engineering, physics, and computer programming.

When developing the earliest version of Good Times, I realized how little control I actually had over the precision, accuracy, and resolution of the clock mechanism used by my race timing software’s stopwatch.  (See the video Timing Your Event on our YouTube Channel to see Good Times’ stopwatch in action.)  What I needed was a timer that worked with accuracy to the hundredth of a second, and worked consistently across multiple Windows operating systems on different kinds of computers.  It may sound easy to accomplish in theory, but in practice it’s very difficult.  So difficult, in fact, that the low-level programming required was beyond my domain of expertise.

Fortunately for myself and my customers, I was able to find the specialized skills and software components to accomplish my goal.  To date, Good Times software has been reliably tested across all the major Windows operating systems, and upon major hardware types.  And in the event someone tries to run Good Times on some obscure hardware with an unreliable or unpredictable clock, I’ve built a fail-safe mechanism into the software so the stopwatch can be manually set to any elapsed time.  I’ve never had to use it, but it’s a great tool to have in your back pocket.

For anyone interested in exercising your mind and learning more about precision, accuracy, and resolution, check out this article.