Why this blog

Back in graduate school I was the teaching assistant for (very) introductory statistics courses for students in the library school, and courses in research methodology for the same students.  Most of the students had humanities backgrounds and probably hadn't had any math or science classes since high school.

It was a real eye-opener.  For the most part the students were pretty freaked out by having to take a statistics class and it was common to hear people say things like "I don't want to understand this, I just want to know how to get the right answer."  These were exceptionally bright students (University of Chicago), but for some reason had not only been completely alienated from the subject matter but had also become completely alienated from thinking about thinking about the subject matter.

Fast forward a few decades (not saying how many), and dogsled distance races started to use technology to allow fans, some of whom are thousands of miles away and on different continents, to follow what's going on in near real-time.  They're using Facebook and Twitter to communicate directly with fans, web pages with timing tables to let fans know how the race is progressing and how their favorite mushers are performing, and GPS-based trackers to allow us to follow the location of mushers on a map.  Because Facebook and Twitter allow fans to communicate back to the race organizations, it's been possible for them to ask questions about what they're seeing in checkpoint arrival/departure tables, GPS trackers, and so on.

So, that reminded me of graduate school, and smart people asking good questions but not having the tools to figure out the answers.  I became interested not just in answering the questions but also in explaining what's going on, how to figure out what we're seeing, and so on.  I also became interested in figuring out for myself how some of the tracking services worked - how they were solving problems around measuring distances and speeds, etc. - and thought others might be interested, too.  What I've found is that most mushing fans aren't that interested in this kind of stuff, but the people who are interested are really interested.

In a nutshell, my goal for this blog is to try to provide some insight into what's going on with data display in dogsled races, and to try to explain as clearly as I can how I came up with my conclusions.  The numbers tell a story, and what I'm really interested in is uncovering that story, explaining it, and from time to time trying to start a discussion around how those stories might be told differently.

Longer term I hope that those of us who put on races can have a conversation about what kind of information we should be showing, what tools would make our jobs easier, etc.

Last by no means least, much respect is due to the people who bring you the races.  It's an insane amount of work involving insane activities, whether it's (as in the case of the recent TOTW 350) breaking trail to Eagle in -60F temperatures or trying to pass information in and out of extremely remote locations with no power and no telecommunications infrastructure.  There's no question that it can be frustrating for those of us following the races when no information is coming in off the trail (and for race committees it's particularly challenging to have fans all over the world asking questions pretty much 24 hours/day), but I doubt there's a race that doesn't do the best it can to keep all of us current on what's going on on the trail.  So, many thanks to those who do the hard work of putting races together, and here's looking forward to another great race season.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not a big fan of mushing, though I do like to follow individual races from time to time online. I do like tools, though, and I think what you're doing this blog is terrific. And that is fun to follow.