Tako Tricks

This article was originally posted December 15th, 2007 on SLSailing.com

You get to the start line late, you rez your boat and jump in.  The clock starts and you raise sail, but suddenly you realize something’s wrong; you don’t have race wind! So you flounder around, clicking on the windsetter, crisscrossing the start line, re-rezzing your boat, or even resetting your scripts. Eventually something works and you’re able to join the next race. Then two weeks later… the same thing happens again. What’s going on? Is there a boat problem, a wind problem, or a Tako problem? Did your “SL partner” think you sail too much and sabotage your boat? Such serious questions demand further investigation.

Cynthia Centaur's new WindsetterOver the past week we’ve been testing Cynthia Centaur’s new Windsetter on the NYC race line (Thank you, Cynthia!). I guess that started me thinking about the above issues and how they relate to Tako race wind. In case you don’t read this column frequently ( a fact that would imply you have a meaningful existence elsewhere) let me begin my comments by offering a disclaimer: I actually spend most of my cortical functioning just trying to spell correctly, and I think UNIX are people who need hormone replacement. I’m probably not your best authority on this topic.

Despite that, I’m starting to think there is an issue with Tako race wind, possibly a serious one.

I’m not being critical of the Tako; God forbid. A creation of Kanker Greenacre, the Tako is the true essence of SL Sailing, and whole generations of sailcraft were inspired by, modeled after, or genetically cloned from the Tako. The code for early versions of the Tako are now in the public domain, although the current Tako 3.3 code remains proprietary.

So what am I so worked up about then?

Well, the windsetter, start line, and Tako sailboat all need to work together for a successful race. However, sometimes this menage a trois suffers from communication breakdowns and illicit outside relationships (just like RL). To explain how this sordid tale unfolds, perhaps we should back up a bit and very quickly discuss how race wind works.

The windsetter has a single job .  Every few seconds it shouts out a string of wind parameters. If you go within whisper range of a windsetter and type “/44 settings” you’ll see what the Windsetter is transmitting. As I write this, the NYC Bismark Sea Windsetter is broadcasting the NYC default wind, so I just got this reply:

SLSF Race Wind Setter (predefs) shouts: dir: 5, spd: 11.000000, dir+-: 15, spd+-: 3.000000, rate: 1.000000A Tako listens for this message. When it gets within shouting distance of the windsetter it picks up the race wind values which are then used by the Tako’s motion algorithm to power the boat. (For a wonderful discussion about how sailboats use wind power in RL and SL, please attend M1sha Dallin’s excellent Sailing Skills class.)

As I said, the windsetter shouts the parameters every few seconds so any Tako in the vicinity is repeatedly updated. That  changes when the Tako is in a race.

Most race courses cover many sims far away from the original Windsetter, and the racing boats may pass other windsetters that could confuse the race boats.  To make sure all Takos keep the same wind for the duration of a race, the Tako is scripted to stop listening for wind updates when the boat crosses the line and registers a START time. It then uses the last race wind it heard for the duration of the race until it crosses a line and receives a FINISH time. When that happens, the boat starts listening again for new wind updates.

This system is pretty good in many ways. For example, if you are half-way through an important race and crash offline, when you log back in and rez your boat in its last position on the course the boat still remembers the race wind settings. That means you can go ahead and finish the race without a disqualification.

Unfortunately, the way a Tako handles race wind can produce problems.  As I just mentioned, if a boat stops in mid-race due to a crash or the skipper’s ennui, unless that copy of the boat  is actively deleted it will probably end up back in the sailor’s Inventory.  Although the boat will be listed like any other Tako in Inventory, it isn’t. That Tako still retains the old race wind settings, and the wind it uses cannot be reset until that boat receives a FINISH time from a race line.

Let me demonstrate this for you. Yesterday I took my Tako to Hollywood and sailed across the SYC race line. The line gave me a START time. I then moored in front of the Hollywood Marine Mall and did some shopping. When I came out, I un-rezzed my boat and went back to the NYC Clubhouse.

However, when I rezzed that Tako on the NYC race line in Bismark Sea, I still had SYC Race Wind! (Mirabile dictu!)

I started the race clock and sailed over the line; as usual, the line gave me a START time. I sailed around using the counterfeit SYC wind for a few minutes then returned to the NYC line, as shown in “A” below. I still had SYC wind, but as soon as I crossed the line and received a FINISH time, my wind popped back to the NYC default (”B“); my Tako had started listening again.

I had “tricked” my Tako to use the wrong wind settings.

Why am I wasting time talking about this? Well, because I’m pretty sure the “Wrong Wind Tako” problem is more common than we appreciate, and interferes with many races. There is no way a sailor can tell what race wind a Tako is actually using, so unintended errors could easily go unnoticed. All skippers and Race Directors do the same thing: they watch the boats and the sails, looking for something unusual. Since nearly all fleet races use wind settings that include speed and direction variance, a sailor can only detect a problem if the boat’s “bad wind” is very different from the intended race wind settings.

This might be a particular problem at NYC’s Bismark Sea line. NYC’s new Windsetter at the moment has two ‘predefs’ that skippers often switch between. The only difference between the ‘default’ and ‘hotlaps’ settings is the speed and direction variability. For the reasons discussed above, it’s easy to  assume that race boats may end up  using the wrong wind, despite the diligence and good intent of the skipper. The difference between the predefs is too small to notice easily.

Since the effect overrides the local race wind, it could also be exploited by someone trying to cheat in a Tako race.  I’m not overly concerned about it, however. I’m sure the best SL sailboat racers know a dozen ways to cheat, but they don’t. They understand SL Sailboat Racing isn’t about winning some pixel prize. They realize it’s an exciting test of skill, experience, knowledge and determination. From that vantage point, cheating is just a waste of time.

The real problem with the “Wrong Wind Tako” effect is that it can easily happen unintentionally and probably goes unnoticed unless the wind setting difference is large. It becomes a source of confusion and error in fleet races and hotlaps.

How to fix the Wrong Wind problem? I discussed this with Cory Copeland last evening, and he agreed there might be a simple solution. Before a race, all boats should do a practice run. The boats cross the start line, sail for at least one minute, then return and get a FINISH time. That would ensure all racing Takos are listening to the windsetter and using the right wind.

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