Friday, March 27, 2015

Wisdom of Crowds - NCAA March Madness Version

March Madness and the Wisdom of Crowds

You don't have to look far to find tear stained brackets from the NCAA March Madness Tournament. Millions of people created brackets and millions were wrong. The question continues to deserve inspection:

Which advice is better, the advice of an expert, or the advice of a crowd?

Did the Crowd get March Madness right?

Cow-ontology, Bracketology and
The Wisdom of Crowds 

Why is Bracketology Important?

Chris Godfrey (@DaWordOfGodfrey) provides an enlightened reasoning:
"As an added bonus, the winner of the Busted Brackets from Busting Brackets Tournament Challenge (copyright pending) will also receive — a man’s hat.
Allow me to explain. In college, my buddy Sam (a frequent contributor to my mailbag and a future member of the Order of Canada) would annually organize a bracket pool where the winner would receive a random item. For example, one year a stuffed rat was involved. It was our college basketball answer to the ridiculousness of rivalry game trophies in college football where teams play for random stuff all the time (boots, skillets, bronzed pigs, a slab of bacon, etc.).

The most coveted item we ever competed for was a man’s hat. I can’t tell you why the hat meant so much. We literally found it on the ground outside of our apartment. However, I would have killed a man for that hat. It was our grand prize.
It was a man’s hat.
It was special.
This year I nominate this snazzy number as the hat that will go to our winner."
Clearly the answer is: Brackets are important because they are.

Bracket Busting Metrics:

Not only was Warren Buffet's Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge killed (damned lawyers), but it's clear that he knows how to offer an un-winnable bet.
At the end of the NFL Season I posted a blog with several important questions about my success, and the general success of players in the Yahoo Pro-Pickem pools: NFL Pro-Pickem - Wisdom of Crowds.

If the Crowd is so Wise, Why can't the Crowd win?

My brackets are dying. A slow death by a thousand paper cuts. Four of my first round eliminations were decided by a single point. The Second round was equally soul crushing.  
  • Purdue (1 point game)
  • Indiana (5 point game)
  • Oklahoma State (6 points)
  • Baylor (1 point)
  • VCU (3 points)
  • SMU (1 point)
  • Iowa State (1 point)
  • Providence (13 points)
My East bracket is dead (Villanova), and if Kentucky, Wisconsin or Gonzaga fall, I could be watching Professional Curling on ESPN-Canada-4. I certainly won't be glued to the TV to see my teams in the Final 4.

Clearly the answer is: The ability to of a crowd to guess the weight of a cow is not the same as asking thousands of people to predict a perfect bracket.

More Data Please

In my previous post I asked if a math wizard at Yahoo Sports would take on the challenge to explain why the Crowd lost. 

The ask was for:
  1. What was the mean Pickem selection?
  2. Would Yahoo Sports create a "player" with a Pickem profile to recognize the exact mean picks
  3. Would they recognize the people that made the best tail picks - the least likely (most standard deviations away from the mean) picks -- that were correct.

Bottom Line:

I predict that someone will earn a PhD and will write a commercially successful book based on the failure of crowds to win at Bracketology, Pro-Pickem and other pools.
And, I predict that I will continue to challenge the Wisdom of Crowds.
 Also, I predict that climate-deniers are correct.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Rant Do Us a Favor and Don't

Rant - Do Us a favor and Don't

Disclaimers First 

  1. We have three dogs
  2. I'm the VP of our HOA
  3. I walk about 10 miles a week in our HOA and the adjoining HOA
  4. Both of the HOAs provide bags for picking up dog poop. (See example below). 

Common Courtesy and Uncommon Stupidity

It doesn't take a genius to understand the concept. Both HOAs would like people that walk their dogs to be responsible for cleaning up the mess. 

But for some reason, we have a few idiots (I was going to say %!#$**-wipes but my spell checker kept correcting to wet-wipes), that:

  1. Leave their house to walk their dog without a baggie
  2. Decide to use the baggie from from the HOA provided station
  3. Pick up the poop, tie the bag 
  4. Drop it on the grass next to the sidewalk
  5. Expect the magic poop fairy to come and pick up their poop 

Magical Poop Reclamation

Please notice that there is another version of the Dog Clean Up Station. It is outfitted with a garbage can. 

I guess we could provide a garbage can at each station. And, we could pay someone to come take away the poop. We would have to pay them... this is not a "volunteer friendly" type of chore. Are you willing to let me raise your HOA dues to pay for this additional service? 

Also, call me a cynic, unless the idiot's dog poops right in front of the station, it's unlikely that the bag will actually get into the garbage can. Please note my exact position on this subject: dogs are not idiots, stupid %!#$**-wipes owners that don't take responsibility for their dogs are idiots. 

So What is the Rant?

You own a dog (I can appreciate that). You walk your dog (bravo!). But you can't seem to understand that wrapping dog poop in a plastic bag and throwing it in the grass is just idiotic. No one driving by is going to stop and pick it up. No one jogging by is going to pick it up. No one walking by is going to pick it up. 

Why go half-ass on doing the right thing?

Let's make a deal... If your dog poops on the sidewalk, please clean it up and take it home and throw it away. Your mess, your responsibility. 

If your dog poops on the grass, don't tie it in a plastic bag that will take 3.4 million years to biodegrade, or that will be shredded by the landscape company into hundreds of bits of plastic that will take 3.2 million years to biodegrade. I'm willing to let nature takes it course.

Just do us both a favor and don't... half-ass your responsibilities. 

Or, you might consider upgrading your dog!
Our poodles are smart enough not to poop on the sidewalk.
And, we're responsible enough to take care of our own poop. 

Garmin Vivofit 1000000 Steps

Garmin Vivofit 1,000,000 Steps 

How to walk 1,000,000 Steps in Less than 6 months - Lessons Learned

The First Lesson is simple: You have to get up and walk. I have had peaks and valleys since I started wearing the Garmin Vivofit on 11/24, but stepping out of the front door is always a good step towards victory. 

Daily Chart of Steps
Notice the valleys about 2-3 after the 14000+ peaks
(Click on Chart for a larger version)

The Peaks: 

  • My longest streak for beating the target was 17 days in January, and my current daily average is 8949 steps per day (about 4.5 miles). At 1 million steps I will have walked 500 miles in under six months. 
  • Lesson #2 - If you hit your target early in the day, the rest is gravy. My biggest day was on a Boy Scout camp-over. I walked early in the morning to reach my goal, then spent the afternoon and evening hoofing around camp - running up an 18,000+ step day - or about 9 miles. 
  • Lesson #3 - Good shoes matter. I switch back and forth from running shoes to a midweight hiker. I can definitely tell the difference the next day. The hikers give better arch and ankle support, but I can feel the harsh "slapping" on the balls of my feet. The running shoes are very light, and provide a soft heel-strike. Good music matters too. 
  • Lesson #4 - My glucose scores have fallen as my step count has gone up, and they are in a tighter range. While I have not lost a lot of weight (a mere 5 pounds), my waist size has fallen from a 42 to a 38. And, I have a pair of 36" waist pants in the closet that I can squeeze into. 

The Valleys:

  • I'm trying to find a way to meet the "spirit" of the Vivofit. If the goal of the Red Status Bar indicator, for being idle, is to get me moving... it's not been a good match. My work schedule includes a lot of back-to-back one-hour meetings.  I tend to squeeze my steps into a long, single walk (3-4 miles in one fell swoop). 
  • I have not been able to figure out how to take a day of rest. That is not to say that I have not rested. In fact, after several of my biggest walking days there is generally a day where I just can't get to the target. 
  • Bad weather days (cold and rainy) are still a problem. I have gone to the YMCA a couple of times, but treadmills are still a mystery. The step count seems to match up, but the jarring and soreness seems much worse than walking outside. And, it doesn't appear that the pace reported by the treadmill (3.8 mph) is any better than my normal walking speed (about 1750 steps/per 15 minutes or ~3.5 mph). Again, the steps match, but the speed (and distance?) do not.   
  • I was out of action a couple of days in Jan and a couple in Feb - nothing big, but it cost a few thousand steps. And, I can report that I've had no injuries due to walking (just a bit of old-man soreness). Getting back on track was not as difficult as I would have expected. 

Daily Glucose Scores - The Proof is in the Score

My average daily Glucose score (dotted line) has fallen from 135 to under 120.
HbA1c from 7.3(H) in Oct 2014 to 6.6 in Jan 2015 to 6.2 in Feb 

I reached 800,000 steps on Feb 22, two days after I tested for an HBa1C of 6.2 - which is well inside the standard range of 4.0 to 6.8% While my doctor still has me on medication, I'm in a much better place. 

Click for Larger View

The chart above combines the blood glucose scores (blue line) with a 14 day trend line (green) compared to my daily steps (orange line, with steps divided by 100). My Glucose score should be below the top black line - 120, and my steps above the bottom black line 100 (*100=10,000). Notice that when the step count crashes, the glucose score spikes. 

I also track days where I miss my medication (metformin), which happen to coincide with days where I was out of action ("non-walk") days. My blood sugar score will spike if I miss a dose, so I'm not out of the woods (yet). But it seems clear that >8000 steps a day helps keep control. 
March 14... 1,000,000 Steps

Bottom Line

On March 14th, 110 days after I started wearing the Garmin Vivofit, I passed 1,000,000 steps. I still need to work on taking more steps throughout the day, and still need to figure out how to get steps in bad weather. 

It's a huge win! For the cost of a $90 Garmin Vivofit from Amazon I've been able to push my HbA1c score down, my waist size down, and my legs are very strong and shapely for the first time in a long time

Now, time to attack the scale and get into those 36" pants.