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Discussion: Missed punch using deactivated SIAC

in: Orienteering; Gear & Toys

Mar 30, 2023 3:50 AM # 
I'm now aware of at least 3 occasions where a SIAC in deactivated mode, punching at a non-SIAC programmed station has failed to record the punch.
On each occasion the SIAC was used immediately after another competitor who was also using a SIAC which was possibly activated because the user punched a check station after clearing before the event.
On the second occasion I was the person with the missing punch. Normally I don't use my SIAC at local events because our stations are not programmed for Air+ use, however in this case I had left my normal (SI9) card at home. I cleared the SIAC but did not check it, so assume it was not activated.
At the first control of a mass start event I was right behind another competitor and heard her SIAC beeping just as I punched one or two seconds after her. I don't know if the station beeped on my punch because I was still hearing her SIAC and then my own*, and didn't notice it flash, but the sunlight was very strong anyway. I didn't think anything of it until i downloaded and found the punch was missing. When she finished i asked the other competitor whether her SIAC was activated - she didn't know, but confirmed that she had punched both the clear and check stations before the start.

* Even though I don't punch the check station, my SIAC still beeps and flashes when punching non-Air+ stations. Should this happen, and does it use battery?
Mar 30, 2023 5:40 AM # 
Sounds very similar to our DQ in the Family Relays at UWA.
Mar 30, 2023 7:20 AM # 
Simmo, yes the stick will still beep and flash even in non beacon mode. I don't know the answer to the battery question but I'd imagine it's yes.
Mar 30, 2023 9:10 AM # 
SIACs always give the feedback (beep/flash) unless
(a) the SIAC battery has a dead battery
(b) punching a Clear-station programmed as CodeNo 1 (special use-case to allow immediate CLR->CHK usage)
... so that, at least, should not worry you. It is however the reason why honestly the people saying "I try to save battery by using the SIAC in deactivated mode" are in error, the most power-hungry part of SIAC-life is punch-feedback, and they're not saving that if punching in-hole anyway.

From your description of the punch with the competitor in front of you I would need to know "was she punching in-hole or contactless?" The reason I ask this is two-fold:

(a) if she punched contactless, then the station knew absolutely nothing of her presence, because in beacon-mode there is no return-channel from SIAC to station. This would mean your mispunch was not influenced by the woman in front of you.

(b) if however she punched in-hole, then there is a chance for a technical glitch in punches with SIAC and SIcard11 specifically that I have seen infrequently with the radio controls I build and operate. There exists a very small time-window where the station has told the chip to write the punch, and the athlete pulls the chip at just the right moment such that the chip has written the punch and starts its own feedback cycle, however the station has not received the message back from the chip "OK, punch written" and therefore is waiting before giving its own feedback. After a brief moment, this leads to a timeout in the station punch process, it then writes an Error-code to the backup/log - and, relevant for my radio usage, does not send out the radio punch. I have seen this scenario even caught on video at TioMila, Gustav Bergmann visibly has a blinking SIAC and later a valid punch at download, but the station says error and my radios received nothing.

Now my assumption is that - due to the mass-start hustle and the premature SIAC removal of the woman in front of you, your station didn't actually "see" and write the punch to your SIAC, it in fact thought it was still giving feedback to the previous SIAC. There is a good chance that if the station backup log was read, the womans SIAC would appear there with an error status, and a small chance yours would be there also with an error status.

(Note above I mention only SIc11 and SIAC for scenario (b). This is because these chips give their own feedback to the athlete and therefore, they might pull the chip early and nonetheless see feedback in their own chip. Technically, SIcard10 is also affected, but here athletes wait for the feedback from the station)

Sorry for the long text, hope the technical background helps you a bit.
Mar 30, 2023 9:49 AM # 
WA events don't use SI Air in beacon mode so it most definitely would have been an 'in hole' punch.
Mar 30, 2023 10:05 AM # 
OK. So then possibly we are looking at scenario (b), the station was "confused" from a premature SIAC removal by the woman in front, and if there was any station feedback, it may have actually been directed at her rather than simmos, whos punch was possibly not even started, or possibly was just barely started after the previous feedback ended but then again interrupted. So my guess is we'll probably see an ErrA from previous SIAC and maybe an ErrA from simmos.

I know this sounds snarky, but *especially* in mass punching situation, wait for the feedback, ideally at least two beeps. It's worth it :)
Mar 30, 2023 10:50 AM # 
Thanks jSh. Explains why a few other people have experienced this - including Grilla (referred to by O-ing above). We very rarely search a station after an event, so wouldn't have looked for those error messages.

You're saying that basically any use of a SIAC uses battery, so unless people have ready access to quick battery replacements or are happy to spend money on a new SIAC every so often, they should really not use them at all at minor events. However, I know that at least one of our local SIAC users has hearing issues so needs the feedback on his card because he can't hear the station's feedback.

Difficult to wait for feedback when several other people are breathing down your neck at the 1st control in a mass start!
Mar 30, 2023 1:45 PM # 
I do appreciate mass-start first-control punches are difficult to relax at, possibly the organiser placing two stations at just those controls would have been helpful, or possibly really waiting for just the second station-beep would still be accepted if the significance of otherwise looming mispunch were known.

Regarding the "battery saving" issue. Yes, it is true that the SIAC always uses battery when giving feedback (therefore it really doesn't make a difference to not activate the SIAC using "Check"). But from here on I'd like to tread carefully, hoping to not be misunderstood, and do remind readers of my employment-history at SI. So I believe there are multiple aspects to this topic.

Shoes, clothes, maybe also compasses are accepted as items "that need to be replaced sometimes". Back in the very old days those clear plastic control-card holders (I think they were called "PA-fickan" or something?) were consumables replaced often. For many years, SI-chips were regarded as "buy once, use forever" - but honestly, that was only possible because SI put rather a lot of effort into keeping their stations backwards-compatible. Who can still play VHS cassettes, vinyl discs, even CD- or DVD-ROMs nowadays - or more orienteering-focussed, emiT chose to make their contactless system emiTag completely separate from the older system. Yet some SIcard5 from 1998 are still in active use with SI-stations built 25 years later.

With that in mind, the SIAC should be regarded more in the context of "what value does the active chip offer in return for regular costs due to battery exchange?". My belief is, even in a non-contactless usage, the SIAC provides a smoother punching experience than purely "passive" chips. The famous "chip to the ear" motion allows leaving the control earlier while still having the peace of mind that the punch worked, even if the brief in-hole-stop was needed. The "cost" of this functionality is however the need for a battery in the chip, and sometime, that battery needs to be replaced. Here, two aspects come into play:
* cost. Well yes, there is quite a bit of work required to backup the personalization data on the SIAC, then saw open the chip, remove the board, remove the dead battery, check and possibly upgrade the firmware, solder on the new battery, add shrink-tube to hold things in place, place the board back in a new plastic case, glue it closed with a heat-curing glue, perform a water-submersion test, an in-hole plus three-axis range tests, also SRR radio test, finally re-program the chip-number and personalization data. You’re basically getting a as-good-as-new SIAC every time. Now how much does that battery exchange cost again...?
* time. Sending a dead SIAC, possibly half way round the globe, for service and back again, obviously takes time. Knowing the above steps you'll probably appreciate that SI wishes to do this on their premises to ensure quality of work. The fairly recent introduction of distributors receiving "blanks" and thus being able to "clone" dead SIACs to new ones on-site required discussions, tools, and trust, but it does seem to be working out quite well and surely will reach “a place near you” soon...

Finally, I'd like to add the aspect that athletes choosing to use a non-feedback chip at local events and SIAC only at "important" events "to save the battery" are potentially introducing an error-mode into their competition flow due to two different procedures being stored in the brain, one for non-feedback and one for active-feedback runs. That might be counter-productive?

TL,DR; I respect anybody who wishes to save costs by using a different chip at local events, however I believe they are voluntarily giving up a small comfort for a very small financial gain.
Mar 30, 2023 2:22 PM # 
potentially introducing an error-mode into their competition flow due to two different procedures being stored in the brain

Me, who wears gps watch on one wrist for orienteering and opposite wrist for biathlon.
Mar 30, 2023 6:27 PM # 
The real question is why anyone would organise a mass start event and then not put the controls into beacon mode. "Sorry, we thought you would enjoy queuing."

I can't remember the last event I went to in the UK, at any level or size, where we had to punch in-hole. I'm certain that it would have been more than three years ago. Being able to run through the controls at full speed makes such a huge qualitative difference to the orienteering experience that in-hole SI punching now feels like as much of a throwback as pin punching.
Mar 31, 2023 12:36 AM # 
There have been a couple of cases in WA that I have seen where the punch was actually recorded on the card but was not being recognised by MeOS for some reason. In both cases MeOS reported a single missing punch but a printout from the standalone splits printer showed all controls punched correctly.
Mar 31, 2023 2:59 AM # 
@ lost, we are a small association, the event mentioned was just a street-O, less than 10% of our members have SIACs. We are holding the Australian Champs in October and will be converting all our stations to accommodate contactless and direct punching. However, we may change some of them back afterwards to conserve battery life at minor and street-O events. We'll probably keep one set in beacon mode to use for sprint and state championship events.

Thanks again jSh, your AP Sportident service is excellent!
Mar 31, 2023 8:04 AM # 
Agree, I appreciate both the technical and the behavioural insights that you have given us.
Mar 31, 2023 8:52 AM # 
@simmo, I take your point that there may be little immediate benefit to offering contactless punching if hardly any of your members have SIACs, but equally there is little incentive for your members to buy SIACs if you're not offering contactless punching at every event. The club/association needs to be the first mover here.

In my experience, people who haven't become accustomed to contactless underestimate how fundamentally it changes the nature of the sport, from navigating between controls to navigating around a course. The feeling an experienced orienteer gets from flowing through controls without breaking stride makes the whole business much more fun. (Don't get me started on what it now feels like to go back to old-fashioned EMIT.)
Mar 31, 2023 12:18 PM # 
You obviously weren't around in the days when people practiced their manual punching to improve their control flow!

I think your statement about the nature of the sport is overblown. Putting sprint events aside, you are navigating perfectly in the forest, spiking every control during an hour-plus long run. Does swiping your arm over a station maybe 12-15 times during that 60-90 minutes make even the slightest little difference to your perception of the perfect race? No way.
Mar 31, 2023 1:52 PM # 
I've used SIAC a few times. Meh. My normal SI these days is the kind that's build into a compass, so I only need to slap it on top of the box, and no need to find the hole, and that's just fine for me (admittedly, I am old by some people's standards). For ski-O and MTBO, it's a different story, as getting up close and personal with the control is a lot harder when there's extra equipment involved.
Mar 31, 2023 4:04 PM # 
jSh - thanks for an excellent description of the SIAC. And a note for North-American owners of SIAC: The o-store now has the equipment to do SIAC battery replacements and we have blanks ready. See for more info.
Mar 31, 2023 4:28 PM # 
I personally find that I am unable to punch an SI station in-hole while running in terrain without effectively stopping at each control.

It may be that my hand-eye coordination is unusually bad. However, a quick perusal of the TV footage from the forest races at WOC2015 (picked because I know that we didn't use SIAC) suggests that are plenty of people who are much better than me at orienteering but who are similarly afflicted, including some who even have to come to a crashing halt in order to punch the spectator control on the smooth grass of the run in. Admittedly there are also a few whose punching technique is much slicker, perhaps because - as you say - they've been practising.

But compare that with the footage from last year's World Cup forest rounds, where everyone runs through controls at full speed, often not even glancing at the control as they pass it. Stick your hand out, bring it to your ear (or into your eyeline, if you're unfortunate enough to be using EmiTag), don't take your eyes off your map.

Course-planning culture in the UK being what it is, a typical 60-90 minute race is likely to have something like 25 controls. Without contactless punching that means, for me and for anyone else who is similarly malcoordinated, being required to stop every 150-200 seconds on average.

I don't see how anyone can argue that there is not a fundamental difference in character or in quality of experience between a sport where you run for 75 minutes and a sport where you run 25 three-minute intervals, stopping briefly at the end of each one. Try asking someone running a 75-minute road race if they fancy being required to stop momentarily every three minutes and see how they feel about it.
Mar 31, 2023 5:12 PM # 
At least where I orienteer (which is a lot of places), there are many reasons for speed variation, including many which involve coming to a complete or nearly complete stop, and arriving at a control is just one of these. Even with SIAC, arriving at a control very often involves a radical change in direction.

Then again, I have many years of pin-punching experience. In fact, I clearly remember exactly the same points that you're making being used with respect to SI versus pin-punching when SI first arrived on the scene. "You can just run by the control and punch without slowing down, how great is that?"
Mar 31, 2023 5:37 PM # 
Don't get me wrong - I often come to a complete halt when I'm orienteering, but at least when it happens I know that it's due to my own navigational ineptitude. And those rare occasions where I do make it round a course without breaking stride feel awesome, even at my fairly modest pace.

One of the joys of contactless is working out whether, when and how to minimise the change of direction at a control to avoid slowing down unnecessarily. That's part of what I mean by the shift from navigating between controls to navigating the whole course. It's an essential skill in sprint, where those seconds lost doing 180s start adding up very quickly, but also adds to the fun in the forest.

I missed all but the very tail of pin punching. I can't say that I'm particularly sorry about that.
Mar 31, 2023 8:23 PM # 
I don't think it should be called 'contactless punching' because I've seen more slapping of SI boxes now than before SIAC was introduced. At a recent KO sprint final, the mens' winner was just ahead of the pack and hit the finish brick so hard it ended up a good 2m away.
Mar 31, 2023 9:56 PM # 
@tRicky...that's just poor sportsmanship.
Apr 1, 2023 12:08 AM # 
Heh heh. Change will happen at various rates. Partly thru adoption and partly thru replacement of old orienteers by young. I run a little retail operation; of the last 21 SI chips sold, 16 were SIAC. (I went back as far as a combined order from a school group, hence the odd number.)
Apr 2, 2023 5:26 PM # 
is there one document that lists the "do's and don'ts" for event organizers and a similar one for SI-Air users that deal with all the issues of battery life, range, speed of punchin, spacing of punching, finish line set up, transporting of units , folks slapping boxes etc etc ?

It does seem (from this and other earlier threads on AP) that there is much more scope for things going wrong with SI-Air than straight SI in the hole punching . I am all for improving technology but don't want to be on the bleeding edge of that progress without good "handrails" to follow..
Apr 4, 2023 5:18 PM # 
Hi @iriharding,
Early versions of the SIAC existed in public from 2009, the current physical design is from 2013, addition of the BEACON-modes to the normal orienteering station firmware was in 2015 - thus allowing fully compatible coexistence of old in-hole and new contactless chips at orienteering events. I know time flies at varying speeds depending on topic, but I would say nowadays SIAC is fairly mature and not "bleeding edge" any more.

Regarding the docs you asked about, here are some pointers:
* Information for athletes, reasonably short and a little technical mumbo-jumbo as possible:
* Info for organisers, lots and lots of tips and tweaks, probably need some popcorn to keep interest up to the end:
* The latter is embedded in the full system documentation, there lots more pages around it for those that just can't get enough.

Happy reading!

This discussion thread is closed.