Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Skunkware Scoring & Timing Crew, NASCAR Pit Crew Challenge 2010

The NASCAR Pit Crew Challenge is about 90% scoring & timing, so it all must work perfectly. The NASCAR guys don't know quite what to make of a bunch of electronics & software geeks in aloha shirts. But we get the (very complex and difficult) job done, and they can definitely appreciate that.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

NASCAR Pit Crew Challenge, Bobcats Arena, Charlotte

Nice article this morning in USA TODAY on the PCC. Jay Howard, the owner of the event who is quoted in the article, has a really unique business. His company, JHE, arranges all the razzle-dazzle opening & podium ceremonies for NASCAR and IRL. Rock bands, fireworks, custom staging, Air Force want 'em? Call Jay.

As a special added bonus, my old compadre Trampass is on my crew here. Great to have him in the mix again. He's a NASCAR fan, so he's really digging the show. High-resolution timing and photofinish isn't exactly his bag of croissants (yet), but he's soaking it all in. The circumference of his brainpan is a few mm larger than when we started a few days ago.

Monday, May 17, 2010

NASCAR Hall of Fame

In Charlotte with my homies to do timing & TV graphics the NASCAR Pit Crew Challenge, so we took a few hours to go to the newly-opened NASCAR Hall of Fame.

When the crosswalks look like the start/finish line, you know you're in Charlotte.

RFID "hard card". Andrew seems impressed.

Aero templates from the "old days", before the Car of Tomorrow.

The Boys outside the High Octane Theatre. Each visit starts with a 15 minute movie / multimedia presentation. From there you are guided steadily skyward.

Timing & scoring has its own display.

As does timing & scoring legend Morris Metcalfe, whom I knew personally.

Jimmie Johnson's car bolted to the banking.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

TSA : Dumb as Sarah Palin, or Merely Dumb As A Box Of Rocks?

I have a new toy. It's called a NEXUS card. It is my new source of endless amusement when I travel.

As a US citizen, you can of course apply for a passport. Once you get a passport, you can apply for several different types of elite "Trusted Traveler" status levels with United States Customs. There is an elite status known as Global Entry, and there is an elite status known as Nexus.

Global Entry status allows you to avoid waiting in line (with the unwashed masses) to see a Customs agent when returning to the US from abroad. Once you apply for Global Entry, you must consent to an interview at a US Customs Port of Entry, where they conduct a background check (OK, I confess, I skipped first grade and got one "D" in college) and interview you. If you pass the checks, they take your fingerprints. Once you have Global Entry status, when you get off the plane after returning to the US from abroad, you go to a kiosk, put your fingertips on it, and if the machine likes you, a Customs agent waves you straight through to baggage claim. No waiting in line with the other 390 people on your 747 (and the 390 people from several OTHER 747s). No suspicious stares or strange questions from a Customs & Border Patrol agent.

When you achieve Global Entry status, there is no "card" or official doodad to show off. You're simply in a database, and you no longer have to wait in line.

You can also apply for Nexus, which is a program offered jointly between United States Customs and Canadian Customs. Although Nexus is only good for passing into Canada from the US (or vice versa), Nexus is way cooler than Global Entry, for two reasons. First of all, they don't use fingerprints...they use retinal scans. Your tax dollars at work, baby...just like James Bond. The 2nd reason is that they give you a plastic, hologrammed, secure card so that you can show your friends how totally special and elite you are.

I am both. I have a Nexus card, and I am in the Global Entry database. For Global Entry, I flew over to O'ahu last year and was interviewed at US Customs in Honolulu Airport. A few weeks ago, I had my Nexus interview appointment (in Edmonton, of all places) with Dudley DooRight and his US counterpart. They interviewed me, kicked my tires, took my retinal scan, showed me how to use their retinal scanning kiosk, and gave me a nice shiny new Nexus card.

One night shortly thereafter, I was sitting around Googling this and that, and I ran across a whole bunch of threads on various web sites (including FlyerTalk and TSA's own web site) containing vitriolic flame about TSA agents not accepting Nexus as valid ID at airports. We're not talking the airport in Buttfuck, Nebraska here; we're talking JFK, LAX, and ORD (among others). I read case after case of TSA agents being so dumb, so ill-trained, so Sarah Palin Stupid, that they rejected Nexus as ID because "its not government issued" (it is) or "I've never heard of it" (it's shown on the TSA web site, right next to a passport, as a valid form of government-issued ID).

Among the recommendations I gleaned from reading various flames was that anybody attempting to use a Nexus card as ID at an airport should carry a printout of the above page from TSA's web site showing that a Nexus card specifically IS valid ID to anybody from any division of Homeland Security, of which Customs and TSA are divisions.

But consensus was that even the printout may not help, as it seems TSA inspectors are simply either too stupid, too ignorant, or too Barney Fife to know their own organization's rules. It's kind of ironic, as any dumb-ass TSA moron will accept a State drivers license, which are extremely easy to forge and almost as easy to obtain illegally (can you say "McLove"?). But most will neither accept, nor even know the species of a Nexus card, which requires a passport, a background check, a personal interview with a United States Customs Officer, an interview with an officer of Canadian Customs, and a retinal scan to obtain.

I decided, when time allows, I will start trying to use my Nexus card as ID – just to fuck with people and to amuse myself.

Today I had my first entertainment. I was flying Maui – Charlotte via DFW, and due to wicked thunderstorms in the Dallas area, my plane was 3 hours late arriving at OGG (hence I would be 3 hours late leaving). American Airlines actually called me (as an Executive Platinum, they make somewhat of an effort not to piss me off) and warned me, so I arrived at the airport 2 hrs before the rescheduled departure time. I was literally the only person checking in at American, and there was literally nobody at the in the TSA security line. I decided to give the Nexus card a go.

When the American Airlines check-in guy asked me for ID, I gave him the Nexus card. I didn't expect him to accept it, because he's not Homeland Security and probably doesn't even work for AA (he's probably a subcontractor). He examined both sides of it, checked the picture against my face, and asked me "What's Nexus?" I explained, and then I showed him the printout from the TSA web site. He thought about it for a minute, and then said "That's a great idea. But I think they should perhaps put "Homeland Security" or "US Government" on the card, because I doubt many people know what it is. I certainly didn't. Never even heard of Nexus."

The gentleman had a good point, and he was smart enough to accept it as ID.

Then I went to TSA.

As I said, I was literally the only person in line, so I wasn't going to piss off a bunch of people waiting behind me if I got into it with the TSA guy.

I handed him the Nexus card. He looked at it for about 15 seconds. Both sides. Then he put it under his ultraviolet light to look at the hologram.

"Do you have any alternate form of ID"?

"That Nexus card is a valid US government issued photo ID. Your own TSA web site lists it as a valid form of ID".

I handed him the printout from the TSA web site.

"Yeah, I know what they are, but I've never seen one before, so show me another form of ID".

"You've never seen a Nexus card before?"


"You know that getting one requires a personal interview with US Customs, a background check, and a retinal scan, right?"

"Yeah, I know, but I've never seen one before, so show me some alternate form of ID".

This is actually going better than I expect, so I hand Albert Einstein my passport.

He carefully compares the passport photo to my face, as if the Nexus card doesn't exist. He hands me both.

"Thank you sir, have a pleasant flight".

More amusement to follow, I'm quite sure......

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Shitty Facilities Aren't Unique to the US Open

One of the many, many things I despised about the US Open (for the duration of my 20 years there) were the USTA's terrible facilities. It is, by far, the worst Grand Slam tournament facility, the best being the Australian Open's Melbourne Park. Despite spending $270 million on what eventually became known as Arthur Ashe Stadium, the place was poorly designed, poorly built, and maintenance was non-existent.

The roof leaked like a sieve into our high-tech Batcave when it rained. And not just during The Open. So every year, when we arrived, the place would smell like a mushroom factory, and there would be mold encrusting the roof tiles and the walls.

Well, it turns out the multi-billion-dollar Formula One industry occasionally has the same problems.

This season I have been following the Tweets and Twitpiks of a bubbly young lady by the name of Claire Williams, who works in the Media Department of the Williams Formula One team. As a passionate fan of Williams and McLaren (my favorite teams) and a card-carrying Ferrari-hater, I have found her enthusiastic, extemporaneous comments very entertaining.

This week, at the Spanish GP in Barcelona, the Williams garage sprung a leak. Water poured down into the garage from above, where it is rumoured that the Brembo hospitality suite burst a pipe.

Fortunately for Williams, the leak was dripping into the car area, not the electronics area, where Williams has rows and rows of laptops and LCD monitors.

Of course, one of the biggest leaks in room 1341 at Arthur Ashe Stadium (aka The Batcave) was directly over MY desk. And I do not miss the place one bit.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Madonna Inn, Redux

Got an e-mail via iPhone from The Mighty Sister, aka Franklin J Noseman. Somehow SHE wound up at the ├╝ber-wacky Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo last night.

Just like her brother, yours truly, who wound up at the Madonna Inn twice as a result of collateral wackiness during the course of doing TV graphics for the Tour of California bike race in 2007 and 2008.

Here are links to my two previous blog entries regarding the Madonna Inn:

No TOC for me this year. AEG, the owners of the TOC, entered into a "media partnership" with the Amaury Sport Organization (owners of the Tour de France) for 2010, so the race TV is being produced by a bunch of Frogs. Disgraceful. Shame on AEG (the owners). But hey, it's their race, they can do whatever they want with it, even if it gives American jobs away to fucking Frogs in difficult economic times. But...there WILL be irony, as I'm sure the aforementioned fucking Frogs are going to be freaked out when they check into American hotels to find soap. And showers.

They'll have a helluva time figuring out what those are for.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

"Protect Your Junk" (tm)


David Zabriskie is one of the two or three best time-trialers amongst US pro riders, and one of the ten best in the world. He has won the US National TT Championships several times, and has both won TT stages and worn the yellow jersey at the Tour de Fucking Frogs, er, the Tour de France.

He also, obviously, is a very funny guy. Wish I'd been clever enough to trademark the phrase "Protect Your Junk" for my company.

Particularly hilarious is Zabriskie's off-the-cuff, impromptu commercial with special guests Lance Armstrong and Levi Leipheimer. Available here: link