Saturday, December 7, 2013

Don't do arithmetic. Seriously, don't.

One of my goals for this winter is to reduce the amount of arithmetic that race organizations and volunteers have to do.  It would be fantastic to reduce it to none whatsoever, but that's not going to happen.  Still, there are things that can be done.

One of the toughest pieces of arithmetic that distance races need to do is time-related.  Base 24 arithmetic is not intuitive for most people and not easy for many, but that's what needs to be done, and often it involves carrying a day when someone arrives one day and leaves the next, or leaves one day and arrives the next (and the Quest has one race segment that takes more than a day, the roughly 200-mile run between Pelly and Dawson).  But even for short races, especially ones with a lot of participants, just computing times, speeds, and rankings can be a nuisance.  It's very, very easy to make mistakes.

So, over the past year or so I've gradually been putting together Google Drive spreadsheets that do an increasing amount of work on race data.  This weekend the Langfjordløpet, in Norway, is using spreadsheets which do nearly all of the arithmetic for race organizers.  The format is essentially similar to sprint races in North America, but over longer distances.  The final results are completely generated -- volunteers only need to enter start and finish times, and everything else is computed.  Definitely feel free to borrow as much as you'd like from it, and let me know if you'd like help setting up race spreadsheets.

Langfjordløpet spreadsheet

But very often races and race checkpoints are in remote places with little-to-no infrastructure - no electricity, no telecomm, etc.  That means that race volunteers can't use online tools to help them out.  For those cases I've written a very simple app to find the difference between two times, so at least volunteers won't have to do base 24 arithmetic.  It runs on both iOS and Android devices, phones and tablets alike, and I'll be uploading it to the Google Play Store and the iTunes store as soon as I improve the layout, visual design not being my strong suit, exactly.  I'll keep you posted.  And in the meantime, drop me a line if there's some race-related problem you'd like to see automated.

[thanks to Mike Ellis for pointing out that it's not 200 miles between Scroggie and Dawson, as I originally wrote, but about 200 between Pelly and Dawson.  It's been corrected.]

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