Thursday, June 18, 2009

Hood to Coast 2009: Why I Am Loath to Read Manuals

I made the mistake of reading the latest Hood to Coast newsletter (apologies, PDF format) and have renewed my longstanding conviction that instruction manuals should only be read in cases of life-threatening emergency. And really, by the time there's a life-threatening emergency, it's too late.

The trouble occurs before the first paragraph has concluded, which I reproduce below to spare my six readers the ignominy of fouling their computing experience with a goddamn PDF:

"The best part about the model" it confidently declares, "is there is no way to cheat the system. A slow/fast team time does not guarantee an early/late finish."

Um, isn't the time-honored way to cheat the system to add minutes to everyone's actual 10k time in order to create the impression that the team will finish later than it actually will, or shave minutes off everyone's actual 10k time to create the impression that the team will finish sooner than it actually will?

And what is meant by "a slow/fast team time does not guarantee an early/late finish"? All else equal, a slower team will finish later, and a faster team will finish earlier. I assume the newsletter's authors are using these key words in all their standard ways --- kilometers, slow, fast, time, minutes, start, finish, team, early, late, etc. Do they actually mean something different by some of these words? If so, do they also mean something different by such words and phrases as no beer is permitted on the course?

Isn’t the idea simply this –- based on 10k times and the specifics of the legs, a time is calculated representing how long the team is expected to take to cover the 197-mile course. They want every team to finish within a specified window of time, and they want to minimize congestion of the ~1,000 team vehicles along the way. Therefore they arrange the start times such that the teams will finish within the window, and such that the vans will be reasonably spread out over the 197-mile span, which should mean that slower teams are assigned earlier start times and faster teams are assigned later start times.

Apparently not. Not this year. A whole new algorithm is afoot, or something.

I stopped reading there, as it can only get worse. The 10k time I entered is as accurate as I know to make it; the organizers and the fates can sort out the rest. It goes to show that instruction manuals are to be avoided, and that thinking and running are anathema to one another. I should stop touching hot stoves.


bottleman said...

I don't understand-- was it a big problem, trying to game the system and getting an early/late start time?

The threat that there is no way to cheat the system gives the impression that their model is so sophisticated it can actually predict who is fudging their times and who is not -- which, if true, has to be the greatest waste of statistical computing power since the Bush administration trolled through billions of cell phone records.

What it probably actually refers to is adding some sort of random element to a team's predicted time. That's why fudging times doesn't guarantee the start time you want.

The HTC is one of Oregon's greatest regular freakshows -- which is why I'm participating yet again -- but a freakshow where most of the freaks are the control kind. I'm afraid that the rather opaque nature of the race's administration is a case in point.

And don't touch your wet tongue to any frozen poles, either!

Dale said...

Good question, bottleman. If it was a big problem, I don't know who is sizing these problems or by what criteria.

I'm still a little confused as to how they think they've broken the cheats, but whatever. Whatever isn't worth doing isn't worth doing right, right?

Good luck out there. May it be cooler when it starts than it is today!!!!!