The Man Behind the New EJS Start Lights

Get to Know NAFA People – Dave Thomas, the ‘Flying Nerd’


The first in a series designed to let readers know some of the people behind the scenes at NAFA

by Emma Mak, NAFA Communications Committee
Dave Thomas with his flying pup, Cassie, on the wing of his Cirrus SR22

NAFA is incredibly thankful to have Dave Thomas, a Go Dog Go! member from North Carolina, as a technical consultant on the Technology Committee. Some of you may recognize Dave as the person behind the APES (Automatic Pass Evaluator System) used in the Championship rings at NAFA’s CanAm Flyball Classic. 

In 2018, Dave created a prototype for new start lights (light trees) donating all his engineering time, which could have easily cost many thousands of dollars, and charging NAFA only for the cost of parts. NAFA’s goals for new development of EJS include reduction of overall cost, easily replaceable parts, and an eye towards reducing shipping costs as supplier rates continue to escalate. These are all things Dave delivered in his prototype for the start lights.  They’ve since been tested alongside the current lights at multiple events in the East and Midwest with great success. Now, NAFA is a few months away from having five new EJS start light sets, ready to replace existing sets as they fail.

New EJS Start Lights

The new lights offer the following features:

– one horizontal light instead of two vertical ones, saving space and reducing weight for shipping

– use an affordable, readily available 20V battery that can be charged in 1 hour

– low cost, easily replaceable parts – including LED light strips, Raspberry Pi computer

– flexibility in terms of how the lights can be programmed to work and look

The Technology Committee was initially concerned that competitors would find the horizontal configuration of the lights too different from the original, but as Jonathan Bescher, NAFA Supervising Judge in Region 9 explains, “It took a few heats to get used to the horizontal flow of the lights, but once you saw it,  it was very easy to adjust.” He adds, “The feedback I have heard from competitors has all been positive. With the lights not hanging down from the poles, it allows more room and visibility to see the time displays behind the box loaders.” Flags and lane wins are indicated by red lights or green flashing lights at the far end of each side (left for flag left lane, right for flag right lane, etc.).

Start Lights in action…*

* NOTE:
The brightness of the lights in this video is not true to life, due to camera exposure settings. During tests, the New EJS Start Lights were found to be as bright, or brighter than existing lights.

As NAFA looks to the future of the EJS, Dave would like to totally eliminate the need for head table workers and work toward fully automated, real time tournament scoring. Line judge time sheets could be replaced with software on tablets. Dave has already written software for this (the “Stats Helper” application) that obtains times from the EJS, and line judges need to only define run order and confirm race result. Lighter, thinner time displays, as well as moving away from Farmtek’s custom designed hardware to off-the-shelf hardware and open source software where possible, are all being discussed.

So, who is Dave Thomas? Dave retired from a 35-year career at IBM, including 15 years as a chip designer and 15 years of software development of C++ and kernel level C debuggers. 

In Dave’s own words (Warning: highly technical content ahead), “Projects included DRAM , numerous analog, and microprocessor designs. I got a patent for the first NMOS, non-volatile RAM cell—a big deal before CMOS technology was affordable.  I also spent several years designing high frequency DC/DC convertors and the chip to make the designs possible.  I share a patent for the first 1 Mhz, monolithic DC/DC convertor chip (along with several of my co-workers).” 

Later he did the hardware design for the for worldwide compatible modem for the Thinkpad machines. He adds, “Back then, countries had widely varied regulatory requirements which drove many unique hardware designs. My ‘universal’ design had programmable electrical characteristics so a single hardware design could pass regulatory requirements in all countries.”

It’s okay if you didn’t understand all of the above two paragraphs, you’re not alone. To say Dave has an absolute passion for all things technical would be an understatement. In his retirement, his enthusiasm hasn’t dwindled in the least. “Now I do embedded hardware and software development for fun. I just love writing code in any language! It’s instant gratification versus chip design.”

With his penchant for riding electric unicycles and being a licensed commercial drone operator, as Dave would be the first to admit, he tends towards super geeky pursuits . . . but he and his wife, Sandy, also a former engineer at IBM, have plenty of decidedly non-nerd hobbies, including skiing, scuba diving, and hiking in Montana. And if you ask Dave how he got into flyball he’ll tell you, “It was a good excuse to fly! Flying to a flyball tournament was a nice alternative to a weekend trip for a $100 hamburger.” Dave is also an instrument-rated pilot and owns his own plane, a Cirrus SR22. 

Having a similar Cirrus airplane saved Dave’s life in 2016, when he survived a crash with “only a collapsed T12 vertebra.” The Cirrus is special for having a ballistic parachute system.  Due to engine power loss during that flight, Dave as pilot was able to take quick action, pulling an emergency handle which launched a rocket which then deployed a parachute, allowing the whole plane to safely descend to the ground.

See a nail-biting demonstration of this feature in the above brief video

The future of NAFA EJS looks bright, in huge part thanks to Dave’s generous contributions of hours of time and brain power. Ask Dave if he has any answers for a technical issue and he’ll rapidly provide myriad detailed and innovative solutions. Not only does he generate creative ideas, he quickly hones in on the most practical solution, and with NAFA’s go-ahead, gets the work done. 

Dave plans to bring a new start light set to CanAm 2019 for demonstration to interested flyballers. You can find him near the Pit Boss area . . . if he’s not off somewhere riding his electric unicycle or racing with Go Dog Go!

Power UN-leashed Flyball – Region 3 (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

Celebrating some new flyball titles with cake!

Power UN-leashed Flyball Club

Power UN-leashed Flyball Club practices at Twin Cities Obedience Training Club in Minneapolis, Minnesota. We are a small club that right now has seven Border Collies, an Australian Shepherd and four mixes. We are all great friends and enjoy participating in tournaments in Minnesota and Wisconsin. We’re in flyball for our dogs to have fun, and in return we have a BLAST!

The first title is a very important one!

We offer a six week class for $120. Contact us through our Facebook page and get started today.

Capital Flyers – Region 15 (Silver Spring, MD)

Capital Flyers after our win at CanAm – NAFA’s Premier Annual Event in Indianapolis, IN

https://cdtc.org

Email Contact: Dona Dwyer at ddildon@aol.com

Capital Flyers is one of the first and oldest flyball teams located in Silver Spring, Maryland. Our team was first started when after a trip to Texas, Neil Jennings found out what the wonderful game of flyball was all about. We started training our dogs shortly after that. Back then, we used tuna/cat food cans on the end of a wooden pole and the box had a small trigger plate on the front. Mind you this was in 1983, before outdoor lights and training facilities! Flyball boxes have come a long way since then. As the years have passed, we have had teams split off from Capital Flyers and No Speed Limit. Now there are 15 teams across Maryland and Virginia that play flyball. 

Currently, we are looking for new members to create another team. As mentioned previously, we practice in Silver Spring, Maryland. Practice is held Saturday night at the Capital Dog Training Clubhouse (CDTC). Each session is eight weeks and costs $100 for non-CDTC members. For additional questions, please contact Dona Dwyer at ddildon@aol.com. More info about flyball as well as CDTC can be found on this website https://cdtc.org

Hoping to race with you soon!

Tampa Bay Barkaneers – Region 11 (St. Petersburg, Florida)

www.dtcsp.org

Contact Email: flyballmom@yahoo.com

Tampa Bay Barkaneers Facebook page

Tampa Bay Barkaneers was established in 2007 and is one of the longest running active clubs in Florida. We train at The Dog Training Club of St. Petersburg, St Petersburg, Florida.

Our goals has always been to have fun…and we do! Our members pull together, support each other and help each other to train and compete. Being a team is what makes flyball unique as a dog sport. It is this TEAMWORK that makes the Barkaneers such a great team!

Outside of the flyball lanes, we like our dogs to be versatile and members have earned titles in Agility, Conformation, Dock Diving, Obedience, Rally, FASTCat and Barn Hunt.

Tampa Bay Barkaneers in action!

We offer regular, weekly ‘Intro to Flyball’ Classes and our Team Flyball Practice is held on Sunday evenings. Contact us at the above links to find out times and confirm availability.

Arizona Supercharged Flyball – Region 6 (Gilbert, Arizona)

Team members celebrating with a dinner, following a 1st place finish in an out of state tournament.

www.ArizonaSupercharged.com

azsc.flyball@gmail.com

Arizona Supercharged Flyball Team Facebook page

Arizona Supercharged Flyball promotes inclusivity and fun on our club – we are friends first, and work together to train and compete. We use the most up-to-date training methods to get the most out of all our dogs. Our club captains attend seminars consistently and also participate in online training with some of the top flyball competitors in North America.

Small dogs, large dogs, unusual breeds are all welcome – we currently have the following dog breeds on our club: Border Collie, Australian Shepherd, Jack Russell Terrier, Belgian Malinois, German Shepherd, Chihuahua, Shiba Inu, American Pit Bull Terrier and also sport bred mixes and rescued mixes. We often accept re-trains as well, and place a lot of emphasis on proper technique.

Flyball demo at an Arizona Rattlers Arena Football Game with another local club.

Our club enjoys scrimmages with other local clubs and hanging out outside of flyball. Other activities we enjoy together include team dinners, parties, game nights, dock diving, kayaking and disc. We attend all local tournaments and often travel to surrounding states 2-3 times a year as well.

Arizona Supercharged Flyball is celebrating over 10 years together! We are looking for goal-oriented people, who enjoy a team environment, that want to share in this fun, high-adrenaline sport with us, to send us a message or email. Contact us at our Facebook page listed above, or drop us an email to find out more about flyball and how to get started with lessons!

Small, medium, and large dogs are all welcome to enjoy the exciting sport of flyball!

Pawmetto Pack Flyball – Region 9 (Florence, South Carolina)

Pawmetto Pack Facebook page

www.pawmettopack.com

pp.flyball@gmail.com

Founded in 2002, Pawmetto Pack is a small flyball club looking to grow. Our positive-based training sessions include dogs at many different levels of learning at the same time. We welcome all breeds and sizes and really most enjoy our junior handlers – we foster a family atmosphere.

Many members of our Pack enjoy other sports and challenges with their dogs: field work, dock diving, disc, barn hunt, obedience, rally, agility and conformation. We also have certified therapy dogs in our club, visiting nursing homes and other facilities. Even though we have members in North Carolina and areas well outside Florence, we enjoy gathering together to support all our teammates and have fun.

We currently host the only tournaments in South Carolina, one in December and on in February. We regularly travel to tournaments in Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia, and have participated in the NAFA-hosted October CanAm tournament in Indianapolis, Indiana, as well. Occasionally, a team member of two will travel to other eastern states to participate in tournaments.

Our mission is to have fun with our dogs and each other. We believe each dog and handler is an important part of our Club. We support each other throughout the positive training process and into the tournament setting. We celebrate each and every milestone our dog and handler teams reach – and have a lot of fun doing it! Our dogs steadily earn points to gain higher titles, but it’s the joy of the game and participating with each other that makes us winners! We are proud to say we have Iron Dogs (Ten consecutive years of running NAFA Flyball) as members of our Club!

We offer free demonstrations of this awesome sport to any and all that ask. We have provided demos to the Florence Humane Society, Health South (rehab facility), the River Jamboree at Lynches River State Park and Central United Methodist Church, as well as dog training facilities in Myrtle Beach and North Carolina, and the Santa Paws Dog Pageant at Grand Dunes in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Contact us at the pp.flyball@gmail.com if you’d like to learn more about Flyball and become part of our Pack!

Mutter Chaos – Region 21 (Des Moines, IA)

mutterchaos@gmail.com

Mutter Chaos Flyball Facebook page

Mutter Chaos Flyball Club has been Bringing The Chaos in Des Moines, Iowa (Region 21) since 2016. The philosophy of Mutter Chaos Flyball Club is to give our dogs an outlet for their abundance of energy, and have fun doing so. We strive for each handler and dog to perform at the best of their ability. We do not limit membership to those dogs who have the greatest potential – we’re open to all. Flyball can provide an outlet to dogs of any breed and skill level. The goal is to build a stronger relationship between handler and dog.

We have had a variety of pure breeds and rescue dogs run with our team, including Weimaraners, Australian Shepherds, Miniature Schnauzers, German Wirehair Pointers, German Shorthair Pointers, a Swedish Valhund, a Field Spaniel, Huskies, a Dutch Shepherd, Border Collies, and mixes. All are welcome!

Our club enjoys sharing our love of Flyball with the community. We have performed a number of Flyball demos in support of Puppy Up (Companions Against Cancer), the Great Iowa Pet Expo, and even on center ice (with carpets and mats) for the Iowa Wild Pucks N Paws Night in support of the Animal Rescue League.

Mutter Chaos humans and dogs enjoy a variety of activities together in addition to Flyball. In summer 2019, several of our dog/handler pairs earned a variety of Do More With Your Dog(R) trick titles. We also enjoy occasional backyard agility training, backyard flyball/dog romp sessions, and even doggie birthday parties. The humans also enjoy getting together for social activities such as corn mazes, game nights, ‘Friendsgiving’, and more.

Find us on Facebook @mutterchaosflyball or contact us at mutterchaos@gmail.com

Region 18 – Alaska

Check out the NAFA Locator for contact info for clubs in this region. The Regional Director contact info can also be found there, and is a good resource for finding flyballers to get you started.

If you are a NAFA Flyball club that would like to be featured here, please email CC@flyball.org and/or fill out this form.

Go Flyball!

Region 17 – Hawaii

Check out the NAFA Locator for contact info for clubs in this region. The Regional Director contact info can also be found there, and is a good resource for finding flyballers to get you started.

If you are a NAFA Flyball club that would like to be featured here, please email CC@flyball.org and/or fill out this form.

Go Flyball!

Region 11 – Florida

Check out the NAFA Locator for contact info for clubs in this region. The Regional Director contact info can also be found there, and is a good resource for finding flyballers to get you started.

If you are a NAFA Flyball club that would like to be featured here, please email CC@flyball.org and/or fill out this form.

Go Flyball!

Dixie Flyers Flyball – Region 14 (Birmingham, Alabama)

Dixie Flyers celebrating Hallowe’en!

Dixie Flyers Flyball Facebook Page

Contact Club owner, Jeanne Harem: jeanne_harem@hotmail.com

The Dixie Flyers club, based in Birmingham, AL, was organized in Jan 2011 by Jeanne Harem and 8 other founding members. Our mission remains the same – to be a club that is all-inclusive, allowing any family dog with a desire to play to enjoy the sport. Although there is indeed a healthy spirit of competition, no dog that loves the sport is turned away.

The tone for the Dixie Flyers was set at our founding: Love the sport, love your dog, love your team. That tone has attracted many members over the years, seen by the fact that members, born in every decade since the 1940’s, now hail from Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Indiana and Florida, with one vagabond RVer. Dixie Flyers are truly a family and we live by our motto, “Dixie Flyers Rock!” Whether it’s for a celebration, a time of loss, or a job to be done, Dixie Flyers come together.

We welcome new members interested in the loud and fast-paced sport of flyball. Introductory lessons are given by Jeanne in her training building outside Birmingham. Her success as a trainer is a result of her experience, her creativity, persistence, and the ability to see every dog as an individual. We transform family dogs into family athletes. Optimum dog health is fairly effectively maintained by avoiding Jeanne’s dreaded pronouncement, “Your dog is fat!”

Team members gather weekly for practice sessions. Here, green dogs, Iron Dogs (newbies and 10-year+ veterans), and all levels in between, along with their handlers, hone their skills and deepen their friendships. Commitment to practicing is reflected in competing consistently. Four of our Dixie Flyer dogs have achieved the 100,000-point Hobbes Award, with several more closing in on this title. The Dixie Flyers have also regularly been Regional Regular and Multibreed Champions.

Dixie Flyers travel out of state to support other clubs hosting tournaments and host five tournaments a year locally. We try to make these tournaments fun for our competitors by having a particular theme complete with decorations, a photo booth, and of course, great southern hospitality. Recently, we have opted to provide lunch for all competitors in lieu of awards, allowing all competitors time to enjoy each other outside of the lanes.

If this article has piqued your interest, contact the Dixie Flyers on our Facebook page (Dixie Flyers Flyball) or contact Jeanne directly at the links listed above.

Ruffin’ Tuff Flyball – Region 7 (Sumner, Washington)

Ruffin’ Tuff Flyball Facebook Page

Contact: Ruffintuffflyball@gmail.com


Ruffin’ Tuff Flyball is a small club in the Seattle area made up of people who absolutely love to play with their dogs. Our dogs are family members first and they love to play the game of flyball with us.  Our philosophies are based on two principles – fun and safety of the dogs and handlers, and we train and race with these two things always in mind.

Ruffin’ Tuff Flyball Club

We spend a lot of time together outside of the flyball lanes as friends and believe in the true meaning of the word ‘team’. Many of our members compete together in other sports with their dogs – disc dog, dock dogs, agility, and lure coursing.

We attend 8-10 flyball tournaments a year and train weekly in Sumner, WA.  We have dogs at all stages – some still in training, one about to retire. We love sharing this fun sport with folks who are looking for new training opportunities with their dogs, and occasionally offer classes and workshops to teach the basics of the sport and discuss how to continue training.  Find us on Facebook (link above) or email us at Ruffintuffflyball@gmail.com for more information.

Colorado Springs Flyball Group – Region 19 (Colorado Springs, Colorado)

Colorado Springs Flyball Group Facebook Page

Contact: Julia Belmont Westygreen@sbcglobal.net

We are a small group that meet weekly to train our dogs in flyball. We are always looking for new people to join us in Colorado Springs. We are not associated directly with a Flyball club, as those of us organizing the group belong to different teams in the Denver area. Getting together enables us to practice in Colorado Springs, have fun together, and keep our dogs in the best shape for their next flyball tournament!

Aside from weekly flyball training, we also like to meet at dog-friendly establishments to celebrate from time to time. We also do some yard work together to keep our training area clear.

Our motto: Let’s keep it fun and train our dogs!

Come check us out! Contact Julia Belmont at Westygreen@sbcglobal.net

C.A.T. (Can-Do Agility Team) Flyball – Region 8 (Winnipeg, Manitoba)

Cassie doing her thing…

CAT Flyball Facebook page

Contact: Susan Morrice at spmorriceemail@gmail.com

Can-do Agility Team (“C.A.T.”) Flyball Club is made up of all types of dogs and handlers of all ages. We run for the fun of the game and the fitness of our dogs.

First tournament of the season in the books. Thank you NRG for hosting a fabulous tournament.

Posted by CAT Flyball on Sunday, May 5, 2019

Our club has been training flyballers for 40 years! We accept people of all ages and any type of dog. We are a group of friends with a common interest in training dogs to be good canine citizens as well as great flyball dogs!

Our motto is..all dogs are flyball dogs. All dogs, any size or breed can do the sport. We typically accept new members for training in October as there are typically less tournaments over the winter. This gives us an opportunity to devote more time to ‘green’ dogs. Learning flyball is a great way to bond with your dog and get out of the cold during those long winter months.

If you are interested in learning more about flyball please contact Susan Morrice at spmorriceemail@gmail.com.

Blazin’ K9s Flyball – Region 6 (Gilbert/Chandler, Arizona)

Blazink9s.com

Blazin K9s Flyball Team Facebook Page

Contact email: carol@blazink9s.com

Blazin’ K9s is a small group of dog lovers who enjoy playing with our dogs and hanging out with each other socially. Our club is an extension of our family. We love spending time together outside of the flyball lanes, whether it is going out to dinner, or doing a team outing, such as “Paint your Pet” night! Many of us have multi sport dogs and like to compete in all these sports together whenever we can.

Flyball is a team sport and we are looking for committed people who also want to have fun! Our #1 priority is to have fun with our dogs first and still be competitive in the sport!!! In addition to local tournaments, we travel to several tournaments throughout the year, including events in California, Utah and Nevada. Our team also hosts 2 tournaments a year (November and February) in Arizona.

As a way of promoting this amazing dog sport and responsible dog ownership, we periodically put on flyball demonstrations in the community. We welcome all dogs – our team is made up of a mix of many breeds including rescues.

A near future goal of ours is to attend CanAm, the annual NAFA Championships tournament in Indianapolis, Indiana (the largest flyball tournament in the world!).

Our practices and classes are currently held at Gilbert Crosslands Park in Gilbert, Arizona on Sunday mornings. Interested potential flyballers are welcome to come out and watch our regular team practice as well. Please contact Carol Osterhaus at carol@blazink9s.com for more information.