Saturday, December 06, 2008

Sweet Redemption, with a Dash of Revenge

Yesterday's womens DH was, in a word, sweet redemption. My colleagues Peter and Tobias slightly reworked the RADAR graphic to make it a bit smaller and a bit easier to read at a glance, and it looks cooler than ever. The DATA from both RADARs was great. RADAR 2, at the course section known as Gun Barrel, has been close to perfect for two weeks. OTOH, RADAR 1 (at Tickety Chutes), has been spotty. My colleague Mike, who is the most technical guy (with the possible exception of myself) on the TIMING crew and is a genuine factory-certified conehead (for me, a designation which denotes true respect), has tinkered tirelessly with the placement and aiming of RADAR 1 for two weeks and he finally found the sweet spot.

The TV show looked great. We were all stoked.

The weather sucked, and the start had to be moved down a few hundred meters to the "bad weather start", which doesn't really mean much except my other colleague Brian had to work his ass off to move all the start dreck and re-wire all of our gadgets a half-hour before the start. In the "old days", when I was starter for TAG Heuer, I kinda liked those bad weather days, because I could haul all the crap down myself (I was young and strong) and I'd re-wire everything myself, it gave me a chance to be the hero for a day. When you're starter, it's pretty rare to get a chance to be a hero. It's one of those jobs you can screw up fairly easily, but it doesn't offer many opportunities to excel. It's mostly routine, but it's kinda fun because you're on TV a lot, and you get to hang out with the racers. One time in Beaver Creek I was a hero when a forerunner literally sheared off the internal start gate mechanism two minutes before first racer. The gate looked fine, but it didn't give a start impulse and it felt funny to me as I snapped it shut. I was able to diagnose the problem immediately and since I was a pack mule, I had a spare in my backpack, which wasn't always the case in those days. Most of the other starters didn't carry a spare because they're heavy, bulky, and almost never fail. The wands occasionally shatter so you always carry spare wands, but a mechanical failure happens maybe once a decade. I grabbed the spare and got to work. When TV went on the air, rather than showing the first racer staged in the gate, they showed my ass as I knelt in the start, working furiously on setting up the replacement start gate. Quick mechanical replacement, quick re-wiring, quick re-test, the first racer was one minute late in starting, but other than that minor hiccup, the race that day went smoothly. If I hadn't noticed the squishy feel of the start gate mechanism when I snapped the gate closed after the final forerunner, the first racer would have left on time but we wouldn't have gotten a start impulse for him, so we'd have been forced to go to backup "hand timing" for the first racer and the race would have had to have been stopped while I replaced the gate on live TV. That would have been pretty bad. If I hadn't had a spare gate mechanism, the race would have been delayed for at least 15 minutes while a replacement gate was brought up to the start by snowmobile, which would have been a REALLY bad and embarrassing thing for TAG Heuer and for the entire crew.

Anyway, back to the RADAR. I heard a few of the team coaches expressed doubts about the RADAR's accuracy in the team meeting last night, which is predictable because ski racing is a sport which abhors change, even if said change is for the better. I wish I'd been allowed to answer their questions in the meeting, because I'd have made an excellent expert witness. I know a lot about RADAR, but I'd have made no technical arguments, I'd have spoken two and only two sentences. To paraphrase my colleague Doug DeAngelis, I'd have said this:

"Properly calibrated and operated RADAR readings from these very devices is admissible as prima facie evidence in a court of law. Any further questions?".

TV loves the RADAR, the fans love it, it's easier to set up than photocells, it enables us to measure speed at points of the course too dangerous for photocells. Decades of legal precedent have established that RADAR is indisputible except for cases of mistaken identity (RADAR clocks the wrong object) or mis-calibration. The former is impossible in this case, as due to safety reasons, the racers are alone on the course. The latter is very easily verifiable with a tuning fork, a procedure which we perform on a regular basis. The crime lab-certified homologation certificates for all our RADARs are in the filing cabinet in my office.

The screenshots above are the Kitzb├╝hel-spec real-time RADAR graphics we used for the mens races.

The following are screenshots of the slightly smaller, Corvette Stingray-style RADAR graphic we used yesterday for womens DH #1:

1 comment:

T-Rav said...

I see it coming... As in tennis, the fans can enjoy the fast serve cage with the Radar and try to hit like a pro. Now I'll be looking forward to the "Downhill Cage" to clock the speed of all the fans right up to the point that they break apart due to terminal velocity. I guess we should just stick to tracking the pros.