Friday, November 28, 2008

Bethel Spring Series - Planning For 2009

Ah yes, the next Bethel Spring Series. If I'm not thinking about the Series going on right now, I'm starting to stress about next year's Series. In the fall the stress level gets beyond sketching and writing lists and stuff - it turns into action.

So, the other day, I called and faxed the town. Once they approve of things then everything goes forward.

Remember that if you're promoting a race - get the town's approval first! Without approval from the municipalities whose roads you want to use, well, no race.

I've been sketching and listing things for Bethel somewhat compulsively for, oh, maybe six months now, starting the month after Bethel ended. The first month I usually bathe in the relief that another Series is done, but after a few weeks of that, well, I start thinking again. Plans for quicker tent set ups, plans for better sweep devices, even plans for having a more equipment.

It's sort of an interesting process. I suppose I always brainstormed, or thought about things, or whatever you want to call it. Obsess over them?

Something like that.

Brainstorming, though, I actually learned about in school when we helped an engineer living on the floor to get over 400 ideas on how to save people from a burning skyscraper (this was back in the mid/late 80s). I learned to think about ideas with no regard for reality, cost, or execution. For example, one of our "save people from a burning skyscraper" ideas was to make a lot of Jell-O so that people could just step out and land in some Jell-O.

The stickiness, suffocation, cost of making a few million cubic feet of Jell-O, that wasn't the point.

The point was that we had one more potential solution to the problem.

So, along those lines, I started thinking about Bethel. How to improve it, how to make it easier on the staff. The latter includes me, and since I stress about Bethel, my goal is to make the race easier on me too.

I started thinking of the crazy things, dismissing some of them pretty quickly. I still thought of them though, and eventually it'd be cool to make some of them a reality. But for now, they're just fanciful whims.

- Flying camera, mounted on a plane or similar. A friend with a pilot license wanted to take a picture of the race from above, even take video, but he found out the race is in an approach zone for Danbury Airport. Scratch that idea, but apparently there is someone out there shooting video from RC planes.

Now that would be cool.

Since I don't have an RC plane, nor any cameras which will broadcast that far, that idea went on a backburner.

This idea led to one of setting up wireless, self-powered security cameras all over the course so we could have a live video feed of the race at the start/finish line. I haven't thought this through so for now that too is on a back burner.

- Portable registration office. I was thinking a large trailer, heated, lighted, that we could use as a registration desk (imagine one of those food vendor trailers at a summer fair). Such a trailer wouldn't get blown over by even Bethel Spring Series winds, it wouldn't need to be put up and taken down each day, and it'd be easy to store. I even priced some trailers from a wholesaler and came up with lots of ideas on how to make it work. I want to do this eventually but I ran into a huge obstacle - money. We could buy a trailer at wholesale, but we'd have to buy five of them, which kind of blows the budget. At retail, well, we can't buy it.

Trailer goes on the Hold list.

- Efficient sweeping machines. I debate over this internally. The annual Sweep Day really brings together the folks that help out, racers looking to help and also looking for some free entry. Last year I think 30-odd people helped, which, if you figure out how many races I gave away for that, saved themselves $2100.

That would have paid for the rest of a single trailer at retail.

A few years ago, I decided that I'd try to make Sweep Day what I thought would be ideal - "a one hour, two man job." Or something like that. The problem is that it would then eliminate that community building Sweep Day. I really don't want to do that.

Nonetheless, over the years, I've thought about how to sweep the road better. The wet sand likes a broom run over it so it readily gets moved by the blower(s). The blowers are great except we can't put sand onto the lawns next to the road, so it would be ideal to vacuum the dirt into a bin in the van.

Following those straightforward principles, I've sketched a lot of Da Vinci like sketches of home made street sweepers. It's usually some variance of "three to five brooms clamped on pipes in front of two wheeled blowers blowing the loosened sand into a ramp like tube leading to a big bin to collect sand", but when I started pricing the parts, it got a bit crazy.

I've decided to compromise. I think that power tools help, even if they burn up some irreplaceable fossil fuel, but the Etch-A-Sketch slash DaVinci gizmos are a bit too outlandish, even for me. So, with the help of the understanding hardware store for whom I work, I'll be getting some Echo modular power tools with a rotary brush head. Since I know their cost and retail and all that, and that they make like $10 on every gizmo, I'll pay retail.

They cost about $800 for each set up.

Okay, so I think I'm getting one of them.

Combined with judicious use of a quiet generator in the van, a Wet-Dry vac plugged into said generator, and a big container for sand (like a wheelbarrow), I think it'll be possible to walk behind a backing-up van, loosening sand, and vacuuming it up into the van. We'd dump the sand in some subtle place (like in a cul-de-sac, or in a sandy dirt driveway). I figure we can clear the course in, say, 1 hour with maybe six people (three for the van-vac-powersweeper, and three more to do miscellaneous sweeping and such) . Or something like that.

Then later I'll make the enormous DaVinci-like homemade street sweeper. Heh. And if it works I'll market it as a low-buck alternative to those enormous, heavy, expensive, and unreliable street sweepers.

- Generators. Speaking of generators... I hate yelling over the generators. We have two requirements for power. The first is that we need it for two locations, the tent and the start/finish. The second is that we need to hear ourselves think, so we place the really noisy generator between the two locations. This way it's just an annoyance, not a downright crippling soundwave producer.

So the solution? We'll get two quiet ones, one for each spot. This avoids running the power cords all over the place, keeps the wires off the ground (since the generators will be right there, and everything can hang out together), and allow both ends of the race crew (officials and registration) to run smoothly. The problem is that each quiet generator costs twice that of the one big noisy generator we have, about $800 for each quiet one to $500 for the noisy one. I put this on a "must have" list though and I intend to keep them there.

- Tents and sides. Since we can't have a trailer for 2009, we have to stick with the tents. This is a big disappointment but financially I just can't justify it. The tents take forever to set up, so I started thinking of ways to make things quicker.

One is tying things down - using tie-down straps correctly (I learned this after the last Bethel we did) will help a lot. This beats what we use now, the stretching and unpredictable ropes which take forever to set up.

Another tent issue is dealing with the sides. They're a pain, they're big, and they like to blow around. We need some way of storing the sides (8' high, 10' wide) in a smooth and efficient way. I was thinking of a huge bar and rolling the sides up on it, kind of like a 10' wide paper towel roll.

We also need to attach the sides quickly. I've been perusing the hardware store's catalogs, looking for the quickest way to attach the sides. I can't say I've been successful but I hope I can come up with something. It should combine making the sides more rigid, making them more windproof, and make it easier to put up and take down.

Finally we need heat in the tents. We don't need it, but it would make life immensely nicer for the helpful registration souls if it was heated. A big hint is the fingerless gloves the missus has knit. It was good practice and, as she put it, "We can use it at Bethel."

Okay, I got the message. Find heat.

Right now we have a big LP heater but it's sort of primitive and not shielded at all. It melts things like tent sides, jackets, and anything else that touches it. I did briefly think of a wood burning stove (like a pot belly stove) but I figure that would probably bring down the wrath of the Fire Marshal. I'd like a safer heater but I haven't thought of one yet.

- Registration setup and process. We have the registration bit down pretty well but it takes too long to set up. I'd like a "pull up, park, and go" kind of registration process. Part of this means having everything prepared in advance, which, thanks to Gene, we do. But part of it means having computers and such plugged in and ready to go. That we don't do.

I want to build a big portable shelf unit thing, sort of like the things that bands use when going on tour. Or vendors use to pack their displays and product when going to Interbike. Wheels on the bottom, strong sides covered in some fabric (or unfinished, like a big crate), shelves inside, power cords all organized, just plop down a laptop, plug in and go.

Since this seems plausible, I'm leaving it on my "Do It" list.

- One bit of registration is the back and forth of printing start lists and results and stuff. If we could avoid some of the running back and forth it would be good. But this would mean having a second computer at the start/finish for the officials, synchronizing the data, stuff like that. And that would mean...

Two laptops, a network printer, and therefore a network.

I have extra wireless routers, I bought a second laptop specifically for this reason, and we have our printer. The big crate thing would hold the wireless router, a UPS, and some other stuff so that we could have a big network (i.e. two laptops) up and running within minutes of arriving at Bethel. We'll share the registration document on the network and go from there.

A bonus would be to have a database we can update in real time, but that's beyond me for now. So we'll have two spreadsheets, results and registration, and we'll keep the printer at the registration desk.

- Finish line camera. I always, always wanted to have all the finishes saved on a hard drive, and with the second laptop, we can record directly onto the hard drive. I have to figure out if we can replay it as easily, but I figure we can. As a bonus I know the finishes are on there, and we can, for example, put them on YouTube or similar.

With the network, we could even share it and play it at the registration table. Maybe on a regular monitor, not a laptop one.

But if we have a regular monitor, we could use a regular keyboard. And if we had that, and a mouse, we could just use a regular PC.

- That brings me to another point. A server would be nice, to save the master copies of spreadsheets and video. Since, as the missus pointed, I have extra desktops, such a machine could reside in one of the aforementioned "band boxes". If I figure out how to program a database, we could save everyone's data there and just type in a license number and "blip" everything would fill itself out.

Heck, I even have a bar code reader - we could issue riders a Bethel Series card and scan their license number off that!

Okay, that's a bit much. So it's on sort of hold, this whole server idea. But it's worth thinking about.

Now, all that is moot if the town doesn't approve of the race.

So here's to Bethel and a great, great town in Southwestern Connecticut.

Even greater with the Bethel Spring Series in town.

Hint, hint.


Anonymous said...

"So here's to Bethel and a great, great town in Southwestern Connecticut." Agree!!!

Anonymous said...

Yay Bethel!

You're starting to get me STOKED for next year.

-Young Rider.

Anonymous said...

I might as well start rolling down the windows on the car, or start shoveling snow with out gloves on so I can used to the cold again.
I swear it takes a month for my fingers to thaw.
How about we hold the spring series in winter when its warm, like January. Lets do some more brainstorming! Can the town erect a large dome so everyone stays warm?
I'm not bitching, just looking forward to standing outside in 30 degree weather for 8 hrs while everyone else races for 1 hr.

Aki said...

I find out sometime after Dec 16th from the town... I hate this waiting bit.

Anonymous said...

I don't know how much it costs on the east coast, but I talked to the estimator at my company and hiring a full size street sweeper (which requires an operator as opposed to renting a small one which you could run yourself) is relatively inexpensive. we do it a lot on construction jobs on flight lines to keep them clean of FOD.