Sunday, 17 May 2015

Bluenose weekend by the numbers

This year I didn't participate the Bluenose race weekend. Instead I happily watched from the sidelines to see others finish instead. In terms of local races I'm going to run Cabot Trail, with its strong tradition of international attendance and community support based around Baddeck, NS.

My goal this weekend was to watch runners I knew personally, and to see this year's contingent of Kenyans including World Champion Abel Kirui (it's an interesting story why he's in Halifax, for there is no prize money or appearance fees in these races). Little surprise Kirui won the half marathon by over 15 minutes (and while not, I suspect, running his hardest). 

But besides playing spectator, I was also interested to see how Blue Nose attendance would fare. To get right to the point, below are the 5/10/half/full finisher totals from 2004 to 2015. I do not include the kid's 2/4k runs. Although they do generate money for the race, it is unfair to call under-12 runners "competitors". It is more straightforward to count only those who've registered themselves.
Annual participation in the Bluenose race weekend.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Running gender bias

I was browsing the Running USA statistics page and came across this interesting tidbit. See if you notice a strange aberration:

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Calgary Half marathon

I'm running the Calgary Half marathon, May 31st.

Looking forward to it. Raced decently in Grande-Digue 15k last week. Flat(ish) course, cool weather and no wind helped too. Also having the Dal team there was nice boost. In total 8 guys under 50 min, which is something for a tiny race in northern NB. I other news our rag-tag team will be getting a little more serious as we're set to join Halifast.

Back to Calgary. Nice part about the Calgary 21.1k is their efforts to get people from all over Canada to take part. It's the national championships after all, but still impressive what they're doing. Strangest part about national-level road races in the past is the organizers inviting people, offering prize money/appearance fees etc but not posting anything interesting about them online. Often not even a headshot. I always wondered why go through the trouble of organizing people but not profiling them. No more!

Soon-to-be profile shot. Everyone gunning for a sub 74ish time gets one, and a 'fun fact', which is nifty. My fun fact is that I'm an atmospheric chemist. (guess they didn't go with my joggling angle!)

Friday, 10 April 2015


Today I was talking to someone who admitted his step sister is a naturopath. If I look up the definitional of naturopath in wiki, I find nothing unexpected:
Naturopathy or naturopathic medicine is a form of alternative medicine employing a wide array of "natural" treatments, including homeopathy, herbalism, and acupuncture, as well as diet and lifestyle counselling.
I rather enjoy that the word 'natural' is in quotation marks. It is clear enough to anyone that naturopaths do nothing meaningful. Or do they? While it is obvious homeopathic remedies are, by definition, empty promises, it is not hard to find people with differing opinions. For instance the placebo effect is, in fact, a real thing. Therefore simplest notion, that wellbeing is promoted through believing in alternative medicines is in itself healthy independent of the medicine's effects.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Snowfall in Halifax

Halifax has been getting an unusual amount of snow this year. It will certainly be interesting to see the 2015/16 HRM budget plan, which is still be tabulated. Hundreds of centimetres of snow, estimates are that the city will be minimum $10 million over budget. But how does that compare with previous years?

A hint of something deeper going on: a report from the Metro Halifax newspaper noticed that snow removal has been over budget for the past six years. Weirder yet, another story headlines "Halifax councillors not seeking an increase to snow removal budget despite clearing woes". What gives? What's the long-term budget pattern here?

Since budget reports are available from 2000 forward, I can go back more than six years of costs.

But let us also consider total snowfall, as it matters if over-budget years were due to large dumps of snow, bad planning, or both. Oddly enough the Halifax peninsula has no good data on snowfall. The Shearwater Environment Canada (EC) station has been moved several times and does not always collect total snowfall data. I had to use the Halifax Airport data instead, which is unfortunate considering their climate is substantially different than downtown (25 km inland, away from city. Worst. Airport. Ever)

Without further ado, here are the HRM budget/EC snowfall annual data overlaid:

Environment Canada Airport data from hereHRM budget information from here
I adjusted for inflation using the Bank of Canada converter.
You can almost see a correlation between actual snow costs and total snow, but it's weaker than first appears (R-squared of 0.15, to be exact). Then again that's in part because snow costs are a mix of on-call and prepaid crews, and probably due to using airport data, which as I hinted before, sucks for this sort of comparison. I am especially suspicious of the low total accumulation for 2015 (245 cm), logic demands a larger number (at least over 300 cm). Then again, the maximum snow on ground sits at 93 cm, more than any year since 1999, as intuited. Maybe the snowfall numbers are reasonable first-order approximations after all.

More importantly, between 2000 and 2015 the city has been over-budget with snow removal 13 times! On average they get it wrong by 4.9 million dollars. I know that budgets can be complicated beasts, but I looked at other budget/cost parings for the city and they were all very closely predicted. Except for snow removal. Perhaps there is a special animosity between snow crews and city councillors. I noticed for most years this accounts for nearly all discrepancies of budget and actual HRM Public Works Operations costs, as shown below:

Snow vs total public works deficit (2009-2015). There is a pretty darn close correlation here,
and accounts for almost all the city's public works discrepancy.  

My conclusion: Halifax, as with the maritimes in general, lives in a perpetual state of winter denial. Most other cities plan their budgets and outdoor activities as if winter might actually come. No so with Halifax, who each year crosses its fingers hoping this will be the last one.

Meanwhile for runners the frustration is mounting, as most spring marathons are at most 8 weeks away. Another good reason not to register for races mid-winter.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Stealing from the University

A young person looking go to university generally has the idea of getting an education and perhaps get involved in a few activities along the way. Goodness knows, most of your memories will be from outside the classroom.

As a university, you want a balance between two kinds of students: those which perform well academically, and those who are as outgoing as possible. In the most extreme cases, you are looking for everything from a studious bookworm to Rushmore's Max Fischer.

 The idea behind having this mis is that bookworms succeed later in life. To be quiet and hard working means the student's downpayment is immediate (tuition and/or long study hours), while the payoff in the form of a good job, counts delayed gratification. Certainly they will feature prominently in alumni magazines and salary stats, but you also need someone promote your institution brand RIGHT. NOW.

Let us focus on american universities, who offer some of the most lucrative scholarships for those willing to promote their brand name. Further, because clubs, fringe societies, school newspapers are usually self-organized hence weakly controlled by the institution, let us focus on the most reliable tool american schools have: sports.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Food, training and psychology

I am not a food expert, nor a psychologist. Nor a psychiatrist for that matter. Nevertheless, here I am crossing into their territories.

There's a well-known psychological phenomenon called the "Hawthorne Effect" (full disclosure: I had to look up the name. I remembered the effect, not its title!). In a nutshell, a Chicago-based electric company, Hawthorne Works, which employed 45,000 people, wanted to increase productivity. With so many employees, even a minute improvement would vastly improve profits. They hired an outside group to monitor what changes in worker's environments would lead to increases in manufacturing output. To quote the wiki article:
The workers' productivity seemed to improve when changes were made, and slumped when the study ended. It was suggested that the productivity gain occurred as a result of the motivational effect on the workers of the interest being shown in them.
The changes could be arbitrary. Re-arranging workers, dimming lights (or increasing wattage), cleaning work stations. Whatever didn't directly interfere with the actual work done seems to improve overall productivity by up to 30%. But the effects were short-lived, of course, lasting a few weeks at most.