Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Oops, and catching up

I generally don't write much about my life or my dogs.  We're a very small kennel and I just run the dogs recreationally.  I love it but I think it's not of much interest to other people.  Last Thursday, however, we had an exceptional (I HOPE) event.  In the early afternoon I heard one of the dogs in the yard, Harry, making a racket so I went out to check.  Everything seemed normal except that Lara didn't want to come out of her house.

I bent over to take a look at her and heard a noise coming from behind her.  I thought "Oh, damn - she's got a squirrel or a bird in there!"  I pulled her out of the house, took a look, and had one of those moments where something that's perfectly natural looks impossible.  I wondered where she'd found a newborn puppy.  The "What's that?" moment turned into "Holy crap!" moment and I dashed off to ask more experienced breeders (and that would be pretty much anybody) what I needed to do.  Because she hadn't shown any signs at all of being pregnant I hadn't been feeding her differently or providing different care, so I thought it was likely that she'd have only one puppy, maybe as many as three.  Well, I was wrong about that, too, and after the third puppy arrived I moved them all into the heated guest cabin to keep everybody warm and safe.  I watched the fifth puppy being born, and ultimately we ended up with seven.

We know who the father is because we saw the tie happen and nobody else could have been close enough.  The puppies should be very nice - both parents are purebred Siberian Huskies, with the mother being out of Nikeenuk's Sedna and Kraken's Kermit, and the father being Tumnatki's Dr Watson.

This increases our kennel size by over 50%, and I really had not planned on adding more dogs.  So, it's a little bit of a shock, a little bit of a blessing, and a lot of joy.

In the meantime, the winter is finally getting underway.  Several of the early mid-distance races here in Alaska have been cancelled because of trail conditions, but an impromptu "Alpine Creek Excursion" race along the Denali Highway, from Cantwell to the Alpine Creek Lodge, happened last weekend and was won by Two Rivers musher Judy Currier (our pick for the rookie of the year in the Yukon Quest, although Matt Hall is certainly a top contender for that, as well).  This weekend brings the Solstice 100/50 race here in Two Rivers, put on by the Two Rivers Dog Mushers Association.  It's a friendly, low-key local fun race we do to give people an early season trail tune-up experience, but since it's Two Rivers you can always expect a few ringers to show up.  In keeping with this year's crazy race sign-ups (where races are filling up very shortly after opening), we've got a surprisingly large number of entries with some top kennels participating.

Now that the race season is starting up and we're seeing more activity I'll be posting more often.  Feel free to drop me a line with any questions you might have about what you're seeing in the race data, about tools that might make races easier to understand, or more importantly easier to put on.  In the meantime, I have some puppies to attend to.

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.]