Meet NAFA’s Awards/Scoring Coordinator – a Healthcare Professional on the Frontlines of the Pandemic

Get to Know NAFA People – Andrea (Annie) Taylor

NAFA is grateful to Annie for her years of dedication, keeping scoring and awards distribution running smoothly! She lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with her dogs Tattle, Siren, and Charlie. As well as the work she does for NAFA, Annie has been a full-time Respiratory Therapist for over twenty years. Annie often works long hospital hours (often 60 hours a week) and is on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thank you, Annie, for all you do!

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

By Dede Crough

If you have ever received a NAFA title certificate, pin, or plaque, you can thank Annie Taylor. As Awards and Scoring Coordinator, Annie is responsible for sending out all the recognition swag from NAFA four times a year.

A member of Hawkeye Hustlers in Iowa, Annie started playing flyball in 1999.

“I made a new friend that had a border collie,” she recalls. “She was looking for something to do with her dog, and I tagged along to a practice. I was hooked instantly, and I played with teammates’ dogs for over a year before I got a dog of my own.”

In 2005, Annie took over as Awards and Scoring Coordinator after a teammate retired from the position.

“Prior to the end of the quarter, I take an inventory of all the pins, paper, and postage supplies. When each quarter ends, there is a grace period that occurs while we wait for all the results to be submitted and scored, with a little extra time for corrections.”

Certificates are mailed to team captains; pins are mailed to Regional Directors. The certificate and pin reports are pulled from the database, sorted by team, and printed. They are then hand sorted. Certificates with names that are too long or have any errors are corrected and reprinted. Certificates and pins are then inserted in envelopes by club or region, weighed, postage is added, and any customs forms necessary applied.

Plaques go through the same beginning steps. Then every attempt is made to contact clubs to confirm plaque spelling, as you may have noticed if you read the NAFANews email group or follow the NAFA Facebook page. If there is no response to those requests, one attempt will be made to contact team captains individually. “It is not possible to email each person individually,” says Annie. “That would involve far too many emails and hours!”

Participants often want to switch from their dog’s registered to call name (or vice versa), need to make changes to last names, or want to update the handler name to another family or team member. Once confirmed and created, plaques are shipped directly from the manufacturer to the Regional Directors.

We asked Annie:

What’s your favorite part of the job?

I love connecting with competitors all over North America. Everyone is so happy to receive their awards. I greatly enjoy hearing the stories of success that everyone shares and their love for their dogs.

What’s the most challenging aspect?

Trying to balance all the time required for an awards run with my real life! I currently have three dogs that compete in flyball, two jobs besides my NAFA duties, and I am in the middle of my certification and training process to become a Sound Healing practitioner.

What do you wish people knew or understood about what you do?

I wish that everyone understood that it’s a time-consuming process. I don’t think people realize the hundreds of hours that it takes to complete a run, and the thousands of emails I receive. Occasionally something gets lost in translation or missed. Most people are very understanding, but some are not. Everyone that works for NAFA takes time away from their lives to do so. I think that sometimes people forget that this is not our only job.

Please be patient with all of us. If I don’t return an email from you on that day, I’m likely working a long stretch of overtime and sleeping! But if you don’t see your tournament results posted in a timely manner (3-5 days), please email again. Sometimes they get lost or buried in all my correspondence.

I always love seeing the creative names people have for their dogs, but I marvel at the fact that people don’t understand that what they type into the CRN form is what comes out on the certificate! If something isn’t correct with your dog’s name, it’s probably because you entered it that way. Of course, there are a few rare exceptions with database issues, but most of the errors are human.

Is there anything else you wish to say to the NAFA community?

I really enjoy getting to know so many amazing people! I love hearing your stories of loss and victory. Please keep sharing them. We all love our dogs so much!

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…*

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!