Saturday, February 07, 2009

Tour of California Technology Preview

To quote the most talentless singer in pop history, "Ooops, I did it again". Contrary to my vow to give up stage racing, I agreed to once again provide the TV graphics for the 2009 Amgen Tour of California bike race.

I am going to attempt to make this blog a kvetch-free zone during ATOC, because you, loyal readers, already know how confusing, disorienting and just damn difficult pro-level stage races can be from a production standpoint. This year, we're live on Versus and worldfeed every day for 9 days, starting Saturday Feb 14.

From a fan perspective, this should be a great race. Lance will be riding, along with most every other star of the pro peloton - Hincapie, Boonen, Cancellara, Van de Velde, Cavendish, Leipheimer, Voigt, Zabriskie. Stage 2 actually crosses the Golden Gate Bridge, which should be nothing less than jaw-dropping, particularly if the weather is good. We finish up in San Diego on Feb 22.

I was intending to fly back out to Utah on the 23rd to get in more backcountry skiing, but I'm predicting I'll be just too damn tired and burnt out at that point to do anything other than go home and sleep for a week.

There are several new twists this year. First of all, I'm no longer using my old, slow Matrox Digisuite machines to render graphics, I'm using my nifty new AKISPORT GS2 machines, which are really, really trick.

Second of all, I am no longer working for scoring & timing contractor Phoenix Sports Technology, but instead am on the payroll of Hatch Entertainment, the television producer.

Thirdly, I've now got a technical collaborator, a very smart programmer from Adobe named AllanP. AllanP is the brains behind the Adobe TourTracker mapping technology, which is some damn brilliant stuff. AllanP and I are going to attempt to bring some very cool real-time GPS geo-tracking technology to bear on the television broadcasts of the road stages. We got a late start and our development is pretty raw at this point, but we're thwacking away at some stuff that should end up looking like this:

The icons representing individual riders should render in real time, with a latency of perhaps 20-30 seconds. We'll see. The logistics of whipping multiple sources of GPS data around the country and cyberspace, processing it in various ways, and getting it on the air, is represented in this Buckminster Fuller-esque diagram:

Needless to say, there are a lot of potential points of failure, even before you get into programming bugs.

AllanP is a very talented fellow, as am I (I modestly opine), so I'm predicting we'll get this working, and it will work a fair amount of the time. It's simply inconceivable that it will work all the time, because "it's a bike race", i.e. schitt happens. We're talking about a sport where a 13-year-old girl waving a lunch bidon by the side of the road can bring down 7-time Tour de France Champion Lance Armstrong, causing him to face-plant on the tarmac and almost ruining his chances of winning Le Tour. Bike racing is the sporting form of pure, unadulterated chaos.

AP and I got a late start due to factors beyond our control (i.e. management), but we're making progress. And.....the utter & complete failure of of other contractors to make this work for the past three ATOCs has set the bar so low that we can't POSSIBLY do worse.

I'm also going to attempt to use my RADAR expertise to broadcast the peloton speeds during the sprints, live to the world. It will look something like this:

Then there are the usual race graphics, which will look something like this:

AllanP and I have a few more tricks up our sleeves, but more about that later.

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