Back for another crack at tech talk

Published on 30th January 2023
Author George Dodds

It’s been a while … but New Year, new blog and all that.

Not that the time spent away has been wasted. Not at all, nothing could be further from the truth.

Having embraced a lifetime of eye-watering technological advancement – my first job required a portable Olivetti typewriter, the last powered by more computer hardware than (allegedly) landed men on the moon, it is reasonable to claim that I’ve always loved a gadget.

A mere arm and a leg bought a Mobira Senator in 1983, the Tandy 102 – carried in a discreet briefcase including a three-pin, 13amp plug – allowed copy to be filed from exotic venues as far afield as Drogheda, Crowtree and Warrington; as long as the Velcro kept the cups attached to the headset and the copy takers accepted the reverse charges. Motorola, dumb phones, laser discs, Betamax, sloot coding, Webcrawler, pagers and Dogpile. Some made more of a mark than others.

The wobbly wonderful web arrived with dial-up and modems in the mid-1990s when browsing the ‘net meant racking up a phone bill which would make even a British Gas executive blush in 2023, Googling was still to become the verb of choice for the English speaking world and broadband was a term for Girlschool tribute acts.

Keeping on top of the new digital world took some doing but afore-mentioned WWW also offered the opportunity spread one’s educational wings, to enrol – and graduate – from some of the finest universities in the world, all by via the wonders of technology.

A BS in Fermentation Studies from Appalachian State University, an MA in Puppetry via University of Connecticut and a diploma in Only Fools and Horses from University Centre, Mysercough.

All achievable at the clack of a keyboard had the time not been spent on more sensible pursuits. As George Best probably never said – a life dedicated to sport, drink and women with the rest frittered away.

But now it seems even British speedway is joining the techie revolution. Following the BSPL’s announcement in September a totally reasonable misunderstanding led me to enrol in the University of Los Pablos’s study of the wider impact on global warming and deforestation pertaining to the shapeshifting actions of Optimus, Bumblebee and Unicron.

My mistake.

Turns out that Transponders are not robots in disguise.

But in fact a way of – among other things – timing speedway bikes in the 60 or so seconds that they spend buzzing around British tracks.

Nothing too revolutionary. We’re not talking about the switch from two to four valves, upright to lay-down, even the radical morphing of white to green and back let alone the ruling that black and yellow must no longer mix. Fair point as we could have ended up with green and olive green. or for those of you watching in black and white, red is leading blue with yellow third.

Most motorsport has used this type of timing technology since the 1980s and even the most obscure half marathon or 10K has them buried in the runners’ numbers to provide an accurate timing down to six decimals. Which probably means my, self-timed, Great North Run record of 1:05.39 is unlikely to be repeated. Not least because in the intervening years the 361 has been diverted.

Now this is important stuff for many a speedway anorak for whom failure to collate even one heat time qualifies you for an appointment with Madame Guillotine.

Personally I’m more of a quite rapid, pretty slow, nippy type of person. I find the actual seconds, especially fractions thereof, spent on track of minimal relevance and a holeshot just one letter away from my opinion of its usefulness.

One thing it should do is remove the slightly dubious nature of some existing track records – the fact that Zane Kelleher is supposedly the fastest man in the history of Plymouth speedway by quite some distance immediately springs to mind.

Already there have been calls for transponders to be used to sort out the sometimes somewhat arbitrary views on what constitutes a fair and even start to a race.

Sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for – just ask football fans who for years screamed for technology to be used to referee matches and now want VAR encased in concrete and dropped off a long pier. Hard to believe that one of the more bizarre reasons for the delay of its introduction was that TV replays would take the supposedly much-loved element of controversy from the game.

My suspicion is that rather than even breaks and four in a row racing for the first turn, speedway started on transponders would actually lead to more staggered but totally legal launches from the tapes. And much howling, gnashing of teeth and application of the caps-lock

It would reward those with genuinely lightening reflexes who, over the years, have been the victims of referees too afraid to let that faster than a speeding bullet clutch drop go for fear of attracting a rabid mob carrying flaming torches and pitchforks march on the official’s box. Much easier to put the red lights on, pull everyone back and hand out random warnings.

But you can’t, indeed shouldn’t, stand in the way of progress.

A sport which fails to embrace the modern is destined to disappear into it’s own past. Echoes indeed of that especially disturbing episode from Life of Mars.

Remember the one when Gene Hunt and Sam Tyler fired up the Cortina and back in the 1970s. Four men in black spluttered around a cinder track on unsilenced JAPs, the smell of burning Castrol filled the air and a strange Scotsman launched the Saturday night entertainment with the words “Let’s have a parade.”

It remains to be seen whether he will be fitted with a transponder come April 1.

George Dodds
George Dodds

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