Tag Archives: data

The Horror of Outlying Data

A week and a half ago, I set a PR, and it’s caused nothing but anxiety.

Specifically, I ran my typical “short” training run (a 5K), and did it in 25:54. That’s 15 seconds faster than my previous fastest 5K time. Yay?

Then, because I can make anything negative, I started analyzing. The run was phone-timed and -measured, which can certainly be wrong, so my first thought was that the time was wrong this time too. It was also a full minute faster than any 5K run I’d done this year, which is suspicious—I’m still getting into running shape but time improvements have been happening in dribs and drabs rather than big chunks. And my previous best took place in a race rather than training, and I’m normally a lot faster in races. Adrenaline, you know.

But I reviewed the route the phone measured, and it didn’t seem terribly wrong. Moreover, the run felt fast, at least for me.

So I’m willing to accept, at least tentatively, that that’s my 5K time now.

But then the bigger, more fundamental anxiety kicked in. Because I’ve run now 4 times since then, and I haven’t come close to that pace. So now I’m wondering: Is the magic gone forever? Have I peaked, and now I’m just going to have to desperately chase that one pathetic moment of borderline competence forever, even though it continues sliding further and further away?

There may be legitimate excuses. One of the runs was a long one, so I wasn’t pushing the pace. Another took place in 90+ degree heat, and I did it with the interval training feature (AKA chases) of Zombies, Run! on, so it’s not really a pure comparison. Most amusingly, one of the runs featured a bit where I tripped on rough ground and fell, only I almost recovered and it took me about seventeen steps to actually hit the ground. Even before the fall I was pre-exhausted and not trying to push the pace, so I’m OK with that one.

But still… It would be nice to have some supporting data to back up my first-ever sub-26-minute 5K. Or a certificate. Maybe a nice quiche, even. Something to make me feel like this is something I can actually do.

World, get on that.





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The Trouble with Wearable Tech

The trend of wearable technology that tracks stats for you—like Fitbits or biometric shirts—isn’t exactly new, but a friend‘s sharing of an NPR article got me thinking about it. It is timely, what with this being Easter and all. After all, Jesus died for our sins, but he came back for electronic gadgetry. Right? (As a moderately atheistic fellow, I can’t be completely certain, but I did take a class on the Bible in college, and even though I got a D in it, I was there and paying attention for part of the class, and I’m pretty sure you can interpret the Bible to say whatever the hell you want.)

I’m generally a technology fan, but I don’t think I’m eager to adopt this technology. There are a few reasons.

First, I’m not sure they’re needed for the vast majority of people. When I’m working out, even without a flood of data, I’ve got a pretty good sense of how hard I’m working. As a non-elite athlete, I think the difference between good workout and optimized workout for me is minute compared to the difference between workout and non-workout. The potential optimization this kind of technology could offer doesn’t seem to have much value—and certainly not the $400 cost of the shirt in the article.

Nike FuelBand

This person did 844 thingies, apparently. Creative Commons image by Intel Free Press via https://www.flickr.com/photos/intelfreepress/9690003914/sizes/o/in/photostream/

Second, how accurate is the data? I’ve seen a friend game her whatever brand of Fitbit-like-thing she had by swinging her arms back and forth. (Ironically enough, this took place at a bar. It was during the third quarter of a blowout Steelers loss. Her husband is the only one who actually cares about the Steelers—the rest of us fake it well but really we like hanging out with each other and drinking in quantities that more than negate the fitness benefits of whatever the heck it was she was doing.) The article notes that there is some question about data accuracy, so I’m not just making that up.

OK, maybe I am. The real reason is: I’m insecure and I I don’t think I’d like what my computer shirt would say.

I mean, sure, the blog has fat boy in the title, but that’s self-deprecation carefully planned to set up a moment of inspirational triumph that could easily be optioned as a lucrative book and movie deal. It doesn’t mean anyone else has fat-boy privileges, especially if that person is just a piece of fabric.

What if it complains that I’m stretching out the sleeves? Or worse, what if it complains that I’m not stretching out the sleeves, and it’s decided to invent a whole new branch of nanotechnology to shrink them just because it can’t stand the noise my linguini-arms make when they’re rattling around in them.

Shorts would be even worse. I can’t control the size down there, after all, and I also can’t control what changes the size. What if it turns out I’m subtly attracted to poultry or the music of Nickleback or high school German teachers? Not enough to be conscious of, just enough for the sensors to pick up on. I don’t want my knickers to know that about me. Plus, if they got annoyed, which they would, what with getting periodically sat on and spending all that time in such close proximity to my genitals, they might try to take revenge by announcing it in public. I’d probably be forced to rip them off and burn them right there. (Which would be a clear second strike at the gym.)

What if the clothes get tired of having to deal with me sweating and they start maliciously shorting out every time I do a burpee? Obviously, the electroburpee will be a thing when Tough Mudder and Spartan merge, but I see no reason to make that happen before it happens.

Maybe this is foolish. I’ve got a hunch that artificial intelligence could run things a lot better than the system we’ve got now. But I also have a hunch that artificial intelligence could make pants that are much bigger jerks than the pants we’ve got now are capable of being. And that’s something we just don’t need.

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