Author Archives: James Powers

Ask Me For A Demonstration!

All… every time I do a demonstration of Good Times, it becomes more evident to me how much my prospects appreciate it.  Sure, screenshots and videos are valuable to get an overview, and even for reference down the road.  But a live product demonstration… priceless!

Let me prove it to you.  All you have to do is just ask me.  Visit our Contact Us page, or just call me at (877) 244-5484.  I’ll set it up, and you’ll walk away with not only a good product overview but the best possible details you can use to envision exactly how Good Times will meet your specific race needs.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

Upcoming Features in Good Times Race Timing Software

Readers…before I get started, allow me to explain visually the recent delay in blog posts:

20140520_193335

Florida

There, that should do it.  Now you know why I haven’t posted for awhile!  It’s rough, having to travel to Florida and spend time on a beach.  Oh well, someone has to do it.

This will be a brief post, but I just wanted to share a couple of the things next on the slate for release within Good Times.  First, is the ability to support Teams.  When considering how to time a race, one must also consider how to score teams.  A few different basic team scoring rules exist, and then even a couple of those have different nuances.  Like most of our new updates, we’ll probably role this out iteratively supporting the basic functionality first and then more advanced functionality thereafter.  For now, you can anticipate that during registration (either by importing a batch file of pre-registered participants, or via manual race-day registration) you’ll be able to specify a team assignment for each participant.  That also implies that an Event Profile will need to provide a way to setup team names, and team scoring methodology for the event.  We’ll also deliver results reports with team information.

Another update is to the IPICO Sports chip timing interface.  We currently lack the ability to setup an unlimited number of splits.  Splits are important in timing a race, so we know we have to provide this.  Some of the larger races have numerous splits.  Splits can be complicated though, especially when split locations are shared more than once on the same track.  This can frequently be the case during track and cross country events that are setup in a loop configuration with runners crossing the same split at the one mile mark, two mile mark, etc.  The complexity lies in the fact that you can’t just pull a single chip time for a participant when they cross that split; you have to determine which of potentially multiple occurrences of a chip time you have for any given runner, and then correlate that to the proper split location.

So stay tuned, and as always you can expect more great things to come in Good Times!  Please visit us on Facebook, or see our YouTube Channel for many videos.

Summary of Race Timing Methods

It’s always fun to talk about how to time a race to someone who has never timed a race.  Like many things, timing a race is like peeling an onion: on the surface, one may think it’s an extremely easy endeavor.  But rarely are they thinking about everything; there’s always another layer underneath.

The other day such a conversation arose regarding a small (< 125 participants) race.  It started with, “Last year we just yelled out the finish times to the runners as they crossed the finish line.”  Incidentally, this conversation happened a mere three days after Good Times proved itself with two races totaling about 8,000 finishers.  Fortunately I was able to come off my high, and step things down a notch to explain how Good Times could be used to help with such a small race.  Here is a rundown of how I explained things:

  1. Yes, what you did last year (yelling the times) was very inexpensive, but also very inaccurate.  It also didn’t give your participants the level of service they see in other races.  At the very least, you could do something like this:
  2. Grab a stack of thick card-stock paper, and number them 1 – 150 with big black magic marker.  Have each participant wear one during the race.  Have a few people at the finish line (that, over the length of about 20 yards, narrows to a single file) shuffle people together into a single file line in the order they finished, and rip those things off and stack the in sequential order.  At the same time, have someone with manual timing devices recording a list of finish times as runners cross the line.  That way the list of sequential finish times can be “married” with the sequential list of numbered bibs.  But an easier way would be to do this:
  3. Have someone running Good Times Software hit the <enter> key every time a finisher crosses the finish line, then send the “Tic Sheet” to the database.  Since the Tic Sheet report has all of the finish times listed sequentially, someone can then write in the bib numbers from the sequential stack collected by the finish line volunteers.  But a better way would be to do this:
  4. Order some real bibs… simple ones, with a “pull tag” on the bottom.  Give all of your participants a bib, and record their information in Good Times Software before the race.  Since this is a short race, have a timer enter the bib number and press <enter> for as many participants as possible as they cross the finish line.  If the runner density is too great to enter each bib number, simply hit <enter>.  At the end of the race, you’ll have a Tic Sheet with only a few blanks to fill in.  For runners that didn’t have their bib recorded as they crossed the finish line, return the Tic Sheet to the timer so he/she can update Good Times Software.  Then you’ll have all of the many Results Reports available through Good Times Software.  And finally, you could always do this:
  5. Hire one of the Chip Timing companies using Good Times to issue RFID chip tags to each of your runners, capturing their registration information before the race.  On race day, simply watch their accurate results come in automatically to Good Times Software.  Generate the reports, and go home a hero.
  6. Carefully analyze options 2 through 5, and pick one!

Well, that’s how the conversation went, albeit with more explanation to really make sure he understood the options.  Manual timing with computerized input, select timing, chip timing, Good Times Software can handle it.  It’s been used in races with less than 30 participants, and in races of up to 8,000 finishers.

If you haven’t checked us out on YouTube, please do so.  Our YouTube Channel has many how to videos.

Timing a Large Race with Good Times Software

Hello Readers,

This past Saturday was a terrific opportunity to test Good Times Software with a very large race.  Two events, with a total of nearly 8,000 finishers!  We had about 9,000 registered participants, but it was a “cause” race that attracts many extra registrants who want to help the cause but never intend on running.  But that’s quite alright, it’s for a cause after all!

I’m thrilled to announce that Good Times Software was up to the job.  In some ways, timing a large chip-timed race isn’t too different from timing a small one.  Many of the things a timer must do remains the same, regardless of the quantity of participants.  Yet some things are different.  For example:

  1. Adequate backup RFID mats.  With a huge volume of runners crossing an RFID mat at any given time, it’s always a good idea to have more backup mats than you may have for a small chip-timed event.
  2. Software that can handle large volumes of data efficiently.  This seems like a no-brainer, but until you’ve exercised timing software with large volumes of data, you simply can’t predict how it will react.
  3. More time for data cleansing in advance of the race.  It never fails, some people may not provide their date-of-birth (required for age bracketing) or accidentally type in nasty characters into another field, like street address.  For a small race, these can be fixed quickly, but for a large race it takes some time (see my previous post regarding CLEAN data.)

Though Good Times produced accurate results and overall gave a stellar performance at these large events, a couple necessary improvements have already been made and are currently in testing.  These improvements include how the software manages large sets of data it displays on its screens.  In a couple instances, for the larger of the two races, data simply took longer than what I had hoped to display.  So that has been addressed.  We also added logic to not attempt to re-process chip records which had been processed before.  That may seem like a no-brainer to you, but for smaller races the extra effort of doing this step wasn’t worth it.

Good Times has come a long way from being a computerized system for manual timing of small events.  Wow… what a great thing to see.  If you’d like more information, visit our website at GoodTimesSoftware.com, or our Facebook page, or even our YouTube Channel.

Race Timing Software and CLEAN DATA!

I’ve been in the data business for quite some time at least in one way or another, and have seen my fair share of bad data.  Call it bad, ugly, dirty, messy—whatever you want, it’s out there in the wild stalking you and waiting to bite!

When it comes to how to time a race, one can easily forget about the value of good, clean data.  Let’s take a simple example: many online registration sites fail to check the validity of data being entered by race registrants.  I’ve seen it all: invalid phone numbers, strange characters in the middle of an address field, a comma or quote in the middle of something that makes no sense, and much more.

Good Times has been designed to work with clean data.  The benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.  Sure, it may mean a little more “data cleansing” before you upload if you’ve gotten data from one of these registration sites that do not validate anything.  But the value of having clean data means that reports are accurate (try sorting on City or Name fields that have special characters…go ahead, I dare you!), they look nice, and things like Age Range reporting actually functions properly.

So, yes, event directors, you’ve been warned!  Strive for good data, clean data, validated and properly formatted data.  You’ll be glad you did.

Visit us on Facebook.com, or check out some of the videos on our YouTube Channel.

Timing a Race: Software on Windows or a Mac, or a Website?

It’s quite funny how Event Directors, race participants, or essentially anyone actually involved with a race never question why Good Times is a software application on Windows, instead of a Web-based application on the Internet.  But other software developers do ask that question.  Well I’ll answer it today!

But first, the easier question of why Windows instead of a Mac?  And for that answer, we must simply consider that Windows-based laptops still dominate the market.  Not nearly as much as they used to, however.  In fact, support Good Times on a Mac is probably a likelihood at some point in the future.  But for now, we have to target the most widely available platform out there.

But let me get back to why Good Times is an actual software product instead of a website.  And that question is pretty simple, too.  It just as easily (well almost just as easily) could be either.  Sure, we could make a whiz-bang registration and timing website complete with all the whistles and bells.  But what about these things:

  • Make sure that a good and dependable Internet connection is available from the middle of a cornfield 150 miles away from civilization?  (Because we do time races out in the middle of nowhere sometimes)
  • Ensure that if we did have an Internet connection, that the website would actually be up and functional?  (After all, someone else is responsible for making sure the website is up, and let’s hope it’s up on race day!)
  • Provide accurate times (Have you ever noticed that little inconsistent and frustrating delay when you click a link on a website before the page shows up?  I’m pretty sure that would monkey with elapsed times which need  something called precision!)
  • Figure out how to integrate a website on a server somewhere across the country with the chip timing devices sitting on the side of our race course.  (Now that would be difficult, and expensive!)

So it’s a pretty cut-and-dry answer: when trying to consider your options for how to time a race, stay away from websites!  Good Times is a software product.  It runs on your Windows PC or laptop, provides a shared database so multiple computers running Good Times can connect to it, all in a self-enclosed network that can be setup in the middle of the most distant cornfield of your choosing!

If you haven’t checked out our YouTube videos, you can go there now by clicking here.  And visit us on Facebook, too.  And we’ve recently released another upgrade that builds on our Chip Timing capabilities.  Grab the trial version of Good Times on our downloads page.

Timing a Race in the Rain

Well I should certainly practice was I preach blog, right?  Here is the post from January that I spoke of protecting your computer equipment from the elements.

Today, while timing a race, I had my Macbook Pro sitting under a tent, safe from the rain.  Yes, readers, it was safe from the rain.  It wasn’t, however, safe from the water which decided to drip off the side of the tent and somehow make it’s way onto the mouse/trackpad.

Computers and water generally don’t mix too well, I knew that.  But I did not know a few little droplets could seep under the cracks of my trackpad and cause havoc in the middle of a race!  Thankfully this was a longer race that had just started, hopefully giving me enough time to do something.  Because at that moment, my computer was useless.  The mouse was extremely erratic, and not only was it moving the mouse pointer around, it was also causing mouseclicks to occur.  I could control nothing.

I was able to take my Macbook into my rig and stick it on the floor while the heater was running.  About 10 minutes later, things got better, and eventually I was able to get back out, re-start the timer, use some of Advanced Event Settings capabilities I added into Good Times Version 3.4, and continue processing results.  It’s always great to see some of the fail-safe mechanisms do what they’re supposed to do.

Now if only I had gotten one of those protective covers for my computer mentioned in that blog post, none of this would have happened.  Timing a race can certainly be adventurous!  Take warning readers, when thinking about how to time a race, make sure you account for the unexpected.

Timing a Race and the Awards Ceremony

One area where I often notice event directors struggling is the awards ceremony.  When the question of how to time a race comes up, the subsequent question of how to plan and provide awards sometimes goes unanswered.

Think about the planning part of it for a moment. Considerations include:

  1. Will we be categorizing finishers into age brackets?
  2. Will we be giving awards for age brackets?
  3. If so, will we give 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place awards for age brackets?
  4. Will we just be giving overall awards?
  5. Or awards for gender only?
  6. And will we allow “double-dipping,” where a finisher can win in two different award categories?
  7. What will our actual awards consist of?  Medals, trophy’s, gift certificates, a new car?

There are other things to think of, too, but those are just a sample of the common items.  The Awards Ceremony itself normally happens near the end of the event, or when the vast majority of finishers have crossed the finish line.  It’s not uncommon, especially in smaller races, to have casual runners or walkers taking their time and never expecting an award in the first place.  Not once have I seen them be upset that the awards ceremony had already begun by the time they arrived at the finish line.

Announcers often have either a hand-written list of award recipients, or are left to look at basic finish-line reports in an attempt to decipher who should be getting awards.  This process leads to frustration, and even errors.

We’ve taken another approach in Good Times, and I highly recommend all event directors at least consider this method.  Before your event, setup the Award Types and Award Categories in Good Times.   An example of an Award Category would be: First Place – Overall.  And example of an Award Type would be: Trophy.

About half-way through your event, someone can use one of the available computers to look at the Event Results, and begin assigning awards to the finishers.  This is all done in the software, and very simply I might add.  Continue to assign the awards until all of the available awards have been assigned.  Then, an Awards Report can be printed and handed to the announcer at the end of the event.  The Awards Report contains all of the finishers who are to be provided an award, their finish times, the Award Category and the Award Type.  (We provide the Award Type so the announcer or an assistant knows specifically which award to grab off of your awards table!)

We have a video on our YouTube Channel demonstrating how to setup and assign awards.  Please take some time to check it out!

Timing a race and my typical network setup

Mentioning “timing a race” and the word “typical” in the same sentence is not entirely an oxymoron!  Sure, part of the excitement of running races, timing races, providing race timing software, helping people learn how to time a race, etc. is the variety involved in those things.  But some things are indeed typical, like my network and computer setup I usually use.

So here is a rundown, for a medium-sized race of about 400 participants.  (Well, that’s what I call a medium-sized race, anyway!)  And I’ll assume (gulp) that the event organizer decided to provide on-site race day registration.

  1. Wireless router, WPA secured, plugged into uninterruptible power supply (UPS) plugged into an electrical generator
  2. Seven (yes, 7) laptops handling new participant registration
  3. Four laptops handling pre-registered participants
  4. One laptop to serve as the Good Times “database server,” in a secure location, plugged into electrical generator, screen locked
  5. One printer connected to any of the new participant registration laptops
  6. One laptop to serve as the timing computer, plugged into electrical generator
  7. Two IPICO Sports Elite Readers (one to serve as starting and finish line, the other to serve as finish line backup) plugged directly into the wireless router, and sucking power from the electrical generator

All devices share the same Local Area Network (LAN) space with 192.168.x.x IP addresses.  The new participant registration laptops and the timing computer can receive IP addresses via DHCP; the database server and the Elite Readers should have static IP addresses.

One of the features of Good Times for which I’ve grown especially fond is the shared database.  This eliminates the need for the various computers to be sharing files (via Dropbox, etc.) in order to do their jobs.  It also makes it significantly easier for me, or for any of the Good Times service providers.  And the shared database, provided by Microsoft SQL Server, has been incredibly reliable.

Oh, and to leave you with a semi-random thought around reliability: When working with the IPICO Sports Elite Readers, everything except the Elite Readers could come crashing down and you’d still be able to recover.  Why?  Because the Elite Readers keep the chip result files in their own memory, allowing Good Times to pick them up at any time.  With the computerized timing with manual entry, recovering is a little more difficult.  We’ve built in a logging system so every bib entered is logged on the timing machine itself, in addition to being saved to the database.  If the database server goes down for some reason in mid-race, you could still recover.  Unfortunately, if the timing computer itself went down (and you were only using one) then recovering would be basically impossible.  Stopwatches anyone?

We’ve recently added some videos to our YouTube Channel demonstrating how all of the chip timing integration works.  Please check them out if you haven’t already!

Make Money Timing Races (Part II)

Happy Tuesday Afternoon, Readers!

A while back, I wrote about our Provider’s License and nearly forgot that I had done so.  (Let the old age jokes begin, I suppose!) But knee deep in Spring and seeing all of the race advertisements pop up around me, I realized it would behoove me to make sure you’re equipped with the right information about the Good Times Provider’s License.  Opportunity to make money timing races is all around.

Fortunately, everything you need to begin taking advantage of that opportunity is within arms reach.  Let’s review:

  1. Good Times Software Provider’s License (call me, and we’ll you setup at a very reasonable price)
  2. Training (as soon as you get your Provider’s License, we’ll setup a series of online webinars to get you trained)
  3. Race “Best Practices” (I’m always happy to help mentor with best practices for pulling off a successful event!)
  4. Ongoing Support (as a Provider, you’ll receive access to our Premium Support services, to ensure you have the help when you need it.)

Now I realize not everyone wants to time races as either a career, job, or hobby.  When the casual event director or timing personnel need to figure out how to time a race, Good Times is still there to meet those needs.  But for those of you who want to take it a step further and provide the service as means to making additional income, then the Provider’s License will be ideal.

Contact me for more information, or you can always message me on our Facebook page, too.