Posted by: berencamlost | 2008 March 8

Awana Grand Prix

Race Track

Last Wednesday was our Awana Grand Prix. This event is our annual pine block car race where kids get to design their own cars and race them. For the last 4 years we have used some software to manage the actual races. Well, never being satisfied with it, I decided to write my own software to run the race.

I started working on it in December, designing the race logic and how all the race heats will be run. I then created an Access database to hold all the racer information, since static information is annoying and too hard to update. Then I started coding it.

After a frustrating two weeks of attempting to pull data out of the database into an array, I gave up. I moved on to coding the rest, hoping I would have enough time to finish the database part.

Now, I’m no idiot, I’m just inexperienced with using Visual Basic to pull data out, and not a single code example showed me what I was trying to do. Grr…… Most of the code examples I found didn’t even work. The built in ODBC stuff could easily connect to a database and put the info in whatever form element I wanted, but none of the queries I did worked and pulling the data out of those elements was new to me.

Well, I got all the rest of the coding done, then returned to the database stuff. After a few days of reading and experimenting I finally got it working. Then, with a little more effort I prettied it up a bit, and away we went.

Grand Prix Software Screen

The night of the Grand Prix is always stressful. I’m in charge of running the sound, running the computer for the races, filling in the racer data into a PowerPoint so everyone can see, and keeping up with everyone coming up with me telling me what names are spelled wrong and why didn’t their kid do better and what not. Not to mention all the setup before hand.

Last year I setup an ad-hoc wireless connection between two laptops, had the racer registration running on one and the race and sound running on the other, and used VNC to transfer the database to the race computer right before the race. This year I was going to do the same. But this year we had a laptop with Windows Vista.

What a mistake!

Vista stinks! I created an ad-hoc wireless network connection between the two machines, but no force on earth could get it to work for more than a few seconds. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zip. So I used a wired connection, and guess what? That worked. At least, until the night of the Grand Prix, when it stopped working. I could ping the laptop but nothing else. WHAT KIND OF STUPID WORTHLESS OS WOULD WOULD ALLOW YOU TO HAVE A NETWORK CONNECTION BUT NOT LET YOU DO ANYTHING WITH IT?!?!?! QUIT TRYING TO MAKE DECISIONS FOR ME MICROSOFT!!!! I KNOW WHAT THE HECK I AM DOING!!!!

Anyways, after the stress of running 75 feet of Cat5 and troubleshooting a network connection for over an hour, I gave up and resorted to a sneaker-net solution (I had a USB Flash drive for just such an occasion).

My brother in law Tim built an electronic finish line with optical sensors and cool LED’s that showed 1st, 2nd, 3rd. He was originally going to design it so it would send the results through a serial cable to a computer, but his work schedule prevented him from doing it.

Finish line

I didn’t have time to design a new car, so I raced my car from last year. Tanisha raced in the leaders section with her Herbie. Kate and Ang raced, but little to no effort went into their cars from me. Tracy raced Katelyn’s car from last year, the pink race car.

Indy CarHerbiePink fireball

The races went well, except for the one leader who was somehow not entered into the database and didn’t get to race, but they had her race the winners and she actually beat some of them. Lots of people complimented me on the software look, so that was nice. It made the stress a little easier to take. Everyone had fun, the races went well, so all in all a good evening. I have a list of items to fix in the software for next year’s Grand Prix, including possibly going SQL Server for the database side of things.

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