O Log - Proximity punching at the string O

[30-Aug-04] 

    At the Welsh Six Day, they had e-punching at the string-O. This seemed a bit odd. My six year old son (who personally thinks string O is a bit on the lame side), got his first set of splits. We could compare with all the M16s who were running the string O that day (and in true pack running fashion, he did try to run faster when they blew by).

    They were testing the newish Emit system which I called "proximity punching". You just have to wave your Emit card near the control. I tried to test how far away you could be and have it still register -- at as far away as 70cm from the control it still registered a punch for me -- I never determined the maximum limit, tho I suppose that is documented somewhere. To me, this seemed a bit far, no need to really go to the controls anymore. Perhaps the next step is carrying a camera-enabed cell phone, with pictures of the bags sufficing.

    This feature will come in particularity handy when the control description says "top of cliff", and you stupidly navigated to "foot of cliff". If you've been training to be tall, you may be able to correct the error with a quick wave of the hand, while your shorter and less agile competitors will have to waste 20 seconds getting to the top. Of course, when SportIdent was introduced, in true reactionary fashion I was worried that the beeps would give controls away -- but I've only noticed this happening once or twice, so I guess that was a decent tradeoff.

    The way this was presented at the control site was a square panel the size of the side of a control bag, tied to the side of the bag. The panel was colored to look like a traditional O flag. This panel just as easily could have been hung by itself, but viz would have been different coming from different angles. There was a small light in the center of the panel which went off when it registered, tho there was no beep. It was more difficult than SI to see if the light went off, tho it was faster than the old SI cards (as an aside, I got to use the new SI cards at WC, and they are sweet, no more annoying delay). However, the card itself had a little readout that would tell you the last control you punched, split, and total race time. Being able to query the last control you punched would help in the cliff example above if you could not see the code, and in cases where you weren't sure if the light went off. I tested taking controls out of order, and the system handled it as SI does, without letting on that you made a mistake.

    Ironically, one of the places where this would be cool -- at the finish so you did not have to slow down, it was not implemented. You still had to stop and fit the thing into the box. I'm not sure if that is a limit of the system, or just the way the organizers had it set up. My guess is the latter.

    I believe Emit has applied to the IOF for this to be an official punching system. I'm sure it will be fine -- its just fun to be a reactionary. I just don't like it that different people could run different distances into the flag, even if it is trivial absolute distances. Could this be a decisive factor in a sprint if 100ms timing is used? I guess it is just like pin punching, it is a skill that can be mastered and optimized where some (albeit small) amount of time is at stake.

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