Does your pack own a laptop?

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birddog
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Does your pack own a laptop?

Post by birddog » Mon Dec 09, 2013 6:40 pm

Our pack has a donated laptop that we use solely for pinewood derby. It is starting to get pretty old and the battery no longer works. I expect at some point in time a component will fail and we'll need a new one. I just hope the component failure is detected while I'm doing my preparations several weeks before the actual race, so I have time to come up with a stand in laptop.

I am proposing that the pack consider investing in a new laptop. It seems like a large expense, just for running the derby (although compared with the cost of our still new 4 lane bestrack and champ timer, maybe not so much). I've already solicited pack parents to see if anybody was willing to donate one, no go. I'm looking for one to run GPRM and race replay.

I was wondering what other packs do. Do you just borrow a computer once a year? Does your pack own one? What other clever ideas have folks come up with?

thanks,

birddog



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Re: Does your pack own a laptop?

Post by Stan Pope » Mon Dec 09, 2013 8:49 pm

Laptops are relatively common, yet fairly expensive, and may not fare well in being left dormant for a year at a time. I would prefer my pack to purchase a license for the Race Management Software of choice, e.g. GPRM, and a large enough memory device, e.g. thumb drive or UPS hard disk on which to retain a permanent record of the race (a copy of the data base used by the race management software), and depend on the year's race chairman to solicit the loan of a laptop. There may be some issues in moving the license from machine to machine, but you should be able to solve those with the vendor.


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Re: Does your pack own a laptop?

Post by FatSebastian » Mon Dec 09, 2013 10:44 pm

Stan Pope wrote:Laptops are relatively common, yet fairly expensive...
I guess it depends on what one means by "fairly"; this year we picked up a Windows-based name-brand "Black Friday" laptop with a 15" screen close to $200. Some good sales are still going on.
Stan Pope wrote:...and may not fare well in being left dormant for a year at a time.
I believe long-term storage is hardest on the batteries and may be the reason why the laptop battery is in bad shape, although even well-maintained batteries will fail eventually. I like Stan's suggestion of keeping data on removable drives and just using whatever is convenient each year. Our local races tend to just use a loaner laptop, but if we had a dedicated laptop we would obviously use it, even if that meant running it from a power supply instead of the battery.



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Re: Does your pack own a laptop?

Post by birddog » Tue Dec 10, 2013 10:47 am

Thanks for the responses so far. Here is my issue with a loaner laptop each year:

With our current laptop, I've tested that the interface to the timing system works and I've installed appropriate drivers for race replay and have done mach races to ensure everything works. I suspect it took me several hours to do all this testing and I really don't want to have to repeat all the install and testing each year. With a known working setup, my prep time is reduced significantly. I still test, but I'm testing a system that is known to work in the past.

Having to do a full install and test every year is something I'd like to avoid, but I guess that is the trade off here. Either spend a few hundred on a new laptop, or spend several hours of my time each year.

It would be nice to know if other packs have their own, or if "standard practice" is to chase down a loaner each year.

thanks,

birddog



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Re: Does your pack own a laptop?

Post by gpraceman » Tue Dec 10, 2013 11:02 am

birddog wrote:It would be nice to know if other packs have their own, or if "standard practice" is to chase down a loaner each year.
Most packs don't have a dedicated laptop for the race. Some do, but you will eventually run into problems with an aging laptop, especially if it is not stored in good conditions. Even if you have a dedicated laptop, things can change that can cause problems. Just applying the latest Windows updates can sometimes break something.

I know that you are looking to save some time each year, but regardless of your setup, you should fully test things out well ahead of the race. Don't take it for granted that it will work this year just because it worked last year. People too often don't check everything out until really close to the race and thus have little time to correct a problem.


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Re: Does your pack own a laptop?

Post by Stan Pope » Tue Dec 10, 2013 11:18 am

Randy, what, if any, issues are there for installing software such as GPRM an a new laptop each year?


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Re: Does your pack own a laptop?

Post by gpraceman » Tue Dec 10, 2013 11:31 am

Stan Pope wrote:Randy, what, if any, issues are there for installing software such as GPRM an a new laptop each year?
The license allows the software to be installed on up to two computers at any given time. If no longer using it on a computer, uninstall it, so you can later install to another computer.


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Re: Does your pack own a laptop?

Post by Stan Pope » Tue Dec 10, 2013 12:53 pm

gpraceman wrote:
Stan Pope wrote:Randy, what, if any, issues are there for installing software such as GPRM an a new laptop each year?
The license allows the software to be installed on up to two computers at any given time. If no longer using it on a computer, uninstall it, so you can later install to another computer.
Excellent! That makes the plan totally workable!


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Re: Does your pack own a laptop?

Post by Darin McGrew » Thu Dec 12, 2013 3:35 pm

We use a loaner laptop for our derby.

FWIW, I'm active with another club that puts on monthly events, and we bought a couple laptops for scoring. This works okay as long as you have someone who knows the system and takes on the responsibility to keep it working (keep the laptops charged, install system updates, etc.). But the person who does this for us is no longer as active with the club as he once was, so it's getting a little harder to coordinate the details of getting the laptops to each event, setting them up correctly with the scoring template for that event, etc. And since no one else is really capable of taking over the maintenance of the system right now, we may end up returning to manual scoring. (Which isn't as bad as it sounds; some of us still score our events manually, and the main loss is the automated generation of statistics.)

For our derby, we buy new batteries for the display and finish line each year, just so we don't have to worry about dead batteries, or damage to the electronics in storage. That's not really an option for a laptop though.



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Re: Does your pack own a laptop?

Post by MOFAST » Fri Dec 13, 2013 3:37 am

Our pack generally uses a loaner. We set the track up on Thursday, have our test and tune and then have our race Saturday am. We test out all of the software. Having a test/tune night helps ensure that all cars are going to make it down the track okay. We will also impound cars if someone wants to avoid the line to have thier car inspected Saturday morning. We have scales and a check in available at test/tune. I am the PWD chair so I normally arrange for the computer or use my own. I don't run the computer during the race I have an Eagle Scout who is in college that comes back every year to run the race. He enjoys it and since I have 2 boys and we normally win, I don't want anyone screaming foul play.

We normally try to have the boy scout troop particpate as much as possible.



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Re: Does your pack own a laptop?

Post by TXDerbyDad » Fri Dec 13, 2013 11:53 am

birddog wrote:Our pack has a donated laptop that we use solely for pinewood derby. It is starting to get pretty old and the battery no longer works. I expect at some point in time a component will fail and we'll need a new one. I just hope the component failure is detected while I'm doing my preparations several weeks before the actual race, so I have time to come up with a stand in laptop.

I am proposing that the pack consider investing in a new laptop. It seems like a large expense, just for running the derby (although compared with the cost of our still new 4 lane bestrack and champ timer, maybe not so much). I've already solicited pack parents to see if anybody was willing to donate one, no go. I'm looking for one to run GPRM and race replay.

I was wondering what other packs do. Do you just borrow a computer once a year? Does your pack own one? What other clever ideas have folks come up with?

thanks,

birddog
Contact local businesses, and you'll be amazed at what they are willing to donate from 1-2 year old hardware. I had a real estate developer give me several thousands of dollars worth of 2-4 year old computers, monitors, laptops, and printers, most of which I passed on to other orgs that could use them. You'll be amazed at what you can find if people in the Pack put the word out.



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Re: Does your pack own a laptop?

Post by PeterT » Mon Jan 13, 2014 3:04 pm

We had a loaner from a particular family for a few years in a row; they eventually offered to just donate it to the pack, however I declined. The issue was that there was no safe place to store it guaranteeing that it would be safe, and would be in good shape for the race next year.

I like Stan's USB flash drive idea - although I would try to make sure there was an annual backup to CD/DVD since USB flash drives occasionally get misplaced.

I've used one of my own laptops for 3-4 years running now. Three days before this year's races I discovered that the USB to serial connector required by GPRM/The Judge simply would not install on my laptop. This is the SAME Win 7 laptop used for years, and I still have the correct drivers stored with my Derby stuffs. Thank goodness for Amazon Prime - had a new adapter the next day which has worked flawlessly.

I thought I was in good shape until registration night. All the testing was going great when all of the sudden that laptop stopped communicating with Race Replay. Well, for years I've actually run TWO laptops - one runs GPRM and Race Replay - the other simply has a PowerPoint in autoplay/autorepeat mode with past photos, cartoons and Derby trivia. I use a cheap KWM switch to swap between them when i need to work on GPRM so that the audience has something to watch.

Well, luckily I had ALREADY installed my second install of GPRM/RaceReplay on that machine and just switched over. No problems with GPRM/RaceReplay, and I was off and running. The misbehaving laptop was fine running PowerPoint.

Moral of the story: always have backups, and if possible, backups for your backups.

I might mention, these are all Lenovo Thinkpads, 4-5 years old, which I picked up used in the $200 each range. I should also note I have little fear of stripping these laptops down to parts, and have a buddy who is a certified Lenovo repair engineer if I get over my head...



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