February 25, 2024

That Really Bunches My Panties . . . by Brendon Marks


Whenever two or more runners get together to chat, invariably the subject of chip timing comes up. It’s the rare runner who is ambivalent about the subject. You’re either for it or you’re against it, and usually with great passion.

For those folks who don’t know what chip timing is, I’ll explain. For those folks who don’t care, bear with me and you may change your mind.
You buy or borrow a chip that’s about the size of a quarter that is associated with a unique serial number, fasten it to your shoe, stuff in your sock, or duct tape it to your ankle. Then when you enter a race, you line up just as you always have, but when the race starts, you run over a pad at the starting line.

This pad detects your chip and sends a signal to a computer that makes a note of the time.  Some time later (considerably later for some), when you run over a similar pad at the finish line, that pad sends another signal that says you finally made it. Simple subtraction produces your personal time.

A good thing about this process is that it seems absolutely fair to everyone, whether you start at the front of the pack, or way at the back. At big races, not everybody can be in the front line. The time you record is the time that it took you to run the race. If your time is the shortest, you should win. There is also no comparison when it comes to the length of time it takes to post the results. Theoretically, your time could be posted seconds after you cross the finish line.

The bad thing is that you could come running down that last hundred yards, in first place, giving all you’ve got to beat the guy trying to pass you in the last few yards just to find out he started 30 seconds after you did, so he wins. As you can see, there’s lots of room for passion on either side of the argument and even the USATF hasn’t taken a firm stance.

Just be glad it isn’t any worse. I admit that the prize for winning a race can range from something as trivial as bragging rights to a substantial chunk of cash, but there could be a whole lot more at stake. How long will it be before this same technology is adapted to other uses? For example, what if they put one of these chips in your car, and have a pad in the pavement at every intersection. This would be great if your car is stolen; they can track it around the city like a bug on a coffee table.

On the other hand, they can print out a speeding ticket every time you get from point A to point B just a little quicker than what the speed limit allows. The same goes for the freeway. They put a pad in the entrance ramp, and another on the exit ramp, and your speeding ticket is in the mail before you get home. Bummer.

I realize the Northstar and Lojac systems are similar concepts, but they’re not quite the same. I’m surprised that the marketing departments of major corporations haven’t already devised a way to take advantage of this technology. A major department store could give you a special bracelet and tell you that you get a 10% discount every time you shop there wearing that bracelet.

Then whenever you walk through the door, the bracelet sends a signal to the computer to raise the prices 15%. Or display signs change as you wander through the store to match your buying history. What if your room key at the hotel had a chip imbedded that gave you a shock (like one of those electronic dog collars) if you tried to get out of the elevator on the wrong floor? That might be pretty helpful when you’re trying to find your room after running up a $180 bar tab, but also could take a lot of fun out of business trips, especially if you were carrying your room key in your front pants pocket.

As I said, you’re either for it or against it, and usually with great passion.


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