Thursday Poll: Photo finish?

Now that we’ve announced the plans for an entirely upgraded timing system at raceday 2010, it’s time to take bets on how close the race is going to be this year.  Will our high-tech digital photo finish equipment come in handy to measure the fine line between 1st and 2nd, or will it be so much of a blowout that we could time this thing with an hourglass?

For some perspective, the recent margins of victory in the men’s races:

  • 3.95 sec SDC over Fringe
  • 0.15 sec PiKA over SDC
  • 3.21 sec PiKA over Fringe
  • 2.49 sec PiKA over PiKA B
  • 2.30 sec PiKA over Fringe
  • 1.65 sec PiKA B over Spirit
  • 1.28 sec PiKA over Fringe
  • 0.25 sec PiKA over Fringe
  • 0.83 sec Fringe over PiKA
  • 4.24 sec PiKA over Fringe

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Raceday timing system upgrade

One of the BAA’s biggest goals this year was to use our human and financial resources to improve on the timing system we use in buggy.  After all the work that teams put into buggy, there is nothing more important than accurately and reliably recording their time (ok, safety is always more important … blah blah blah).  We’re running a race against the clock here, we’ve gotta be able to trust the clock.

Last year, the company sweepstakes has paid to do the timing for 20 years showed up to raceday short on staff so the BAA helped out and filled in.  What we got was a close look at the system in use and a big list of things we’d like to see improved.

What we are improving on

Technology weaknesses

  • Starter gun failures : as we’ve all witnessed, the starter gun has a failure rate of 2 -5 times per year.  This results in confusion and inequitable starting conditions for the teams that are affected.
  • Starter gun – timer synchronization : the current system relies on someone pressing “start” on a timer box when the gun goes off.  This introduces unnecessary human error on one end of the timed period.
  • Finish signal failures : the system buggy has relied on for the past 10+ years uses an RF transponder in each buggy and a wire loop (in a mat on the road) that detects those transponders when they pass by.   If a buggy crosses the line and no signal is detected, there is no recourse other than using the manual stopwatch backup times.  Some buggies are more prone to missed signals than others depending on material choice and thickness and transponder location.  Nobody deserves to have their time missed.
  • Transponders are inconvenient : Sweepstakes has to orchestrate the distribution to every team.  Teams have to find a place to secure it that doesn’t interfere with the driver or the steering.  Raceday is no time to add parts to a buggy.
  • Inaccuracy of the crowd-facing clock : the big black and yellow clock is manually matched to the official time as it is running, usually a minute or so into each heat.  This means that the time people see when the buggy crosses the line is highly unofficial, and has been off by large margins in the past.
  • Delay in reporting official times : because it is somewhat time consuming to recall official times from the current system, the times posted on the leader board are usually the backup manual stopwatch times.  In very close races, this could result in a reversal of rankings once the official times are known.

Personnel weaknesses

  • Rotating staff : because the company previously contracted often has other races on the same weekend, the same timers are not always available for prelims and finals.  This discontinuity introduces opportunities for error when it matters most, on finals.
  • False start enforcement : outside timing professionals have not in our experience been sufficiently knowledgeable about the rules and procedures of a buggy race start.  Because none of the sweepstakes committee is in the immediate vicinity of the start line, the starter must be able to manage false start and restart situations in accordance with the rules.

The new solution

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Thursday Poll: How crazy is crazy?

With the snow we’ve been getting almost every day here in the ‘burgh it seems like we might be getting further from rolls rather than closer, so maybe I’ll stop talking about it.  Hope everyone is enjoying the polls in the mean time.

This week’s topic is a nod to the furious activity presumably going on in a few of the garages around campus over the last couple of months: new buggy builds.  All builds are great for us observers because it us something new to talk about and adds another buggy name to our already strained memories, but some take it to the next level.  I’m not talking fastest-buggy-on-the-course though, I’m talking, “What the #$(*% did they do there?!”  Those buggy designs that turn heads when they hit the course, and then gather a crowd at design comp are the ones we’re honoring here.  I’m sure I’m missing some stellar contenders, but to make this list, the criteria were:

  • Built in the last 10 yearsish
  • Featuring one specific visible design element worth talking about
  • the key feature wasn’t just a badly done implementation of something normal, but a really wacky concept.

And the contenders are: Continue reading

Thursday Poll: What to focus on?

When I committed to a weekly poll last week, I thought there would be some other news in the course of a week, but with all this snow, CMU can’t even get classes to happen, let alone freerolls.  So, given that Phil saw his shadow and the course is 2 feet deep in the white stuff, we can abandon the short lived dream of early Feb rolls, and focus on the topic of prep work.

Just because there aren’t rolls doesn’t mean that teams are sitting around idly waiting for raceday to get here.  If you knew your favorite team would listen to you (don’t kid yourself alumni), what would you tell them to focus on in the 64 days they’ve got left?

Click through to vote in the poll or see the results

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Thursday Poll: How cold is too cold?

We’ve had suggestions a couple of times to add a polling feature to the website to see what the buggy fans of the world think about different issues.   Thursdays are pretty slow in the buggy news cycle since any drama from the weekend’s rolls has played out, but the next weekend of rolls is still days away.  So, from now until raceday, we’ll post a poll each Thursday.  Feel free to discuss the poll and suggest interesting future questions in the comments.

Today’s poll:  Temperature.  It’s not the juiciest topic ever, but it is pressing.  Pittsburgh’s January-best is currently threatening to cancel the second weekend of scheduled rolls this year just by being cold.  A few years ago, sweepstakes seemed to be cancelling for anything below freezing and there were cries of “wimps!” from the alumni who remembered toughing it out in all conditions.  We had some of the debate here last year.  So, what do you think, how cold is too cold for rolls?

Click through to vote in the poll or see the results Continue reading

Members-Only Fall Wrapup & Spring Preview is out

We sent out the first of our three annual members-only publications this morning, the Fall Wrapup & Spring Preview.  The issue includes:

  • Our expert summary & analysis of the state of each organization as they ramp up towards raceday
  • Interviews with representatives of each organization
  • Previously unpublished pictures of each organization in action this fall
  • Quantitative freeroll and mini-raceday stats to give the buggy bookies out there some numbers to work with.

If you thought you were already a “dues-paying-member” for 2010 and didn’t receive and e-mail this morning, let us know and we’ll sort out the paperwork.  If you haven’t become a “dues-paying-member” yet this year, do it now and reap the benefits.  We’ll send you today’s FW&SP right away, and you won’t have to worry about a thing when carnival approaches.

Remember, there are currently two ways to become a member, by donating $10 or by sending in 5 pictures from your time in buggy.  That special deal won’t be offered much longer, so send in those pictures or you’ll have to pony up the Hamilton come April.  Details and a full list of the member-benefits are always available at

Correction : Sigma Nu’s representative in the Q&A section was not Carl Nott.  I’m not sure how he managed to get in there without being present while we wrote it.  The Sigma Nu representative was their buggy chairman, Brett.

Note : The freeroll benchmarks only include times through mini-raceday.  If a team’s best time of the semester was on the last weekend, they might be getting short changed in the rankings.