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The Tyranny of numbers

Old 01-02-11, 02:02 PM
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jackb
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The Tyranny of numbers

Have you ever noticed that in many interests or hobbies, there is an irresistible tendency to turn them into some sort of numbers or statistics. Cycling is particularly susceptible. How many miles? How fast? Average speed? In skiing its how many vertical feet in a day, week, month season or the dimensions of skis. Even in fishing. How many fish did you catch? How long? How heavy? Why do we need to quantify most everything? Can't we be content with doing the things we enjoy? One can still have goals. For example, I'll ride longer today than I did yesterday, however long that was. Is it necessary or even pleasurable to quantify precisely our activities? I find this tendency to translate life into numbers to be philosophically uncomfortable. It's as if what we do is not as important as how fast or how much of it we do. Numbers and statistics everywhere.

Just some philosophical speculation as we begin the new year.
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Old 01-02-11, 02:29 PM
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I'd think that we who might want to know and utilize some numbers are not tyrannized by them, but use them as tools to help us enjoy our riding.

Similarly those who do not use numbers should not feel tyrannized when a numerical discussion does occur. I would never say, "you should use numbers" for something unless you ask a question for which I think the best answer involves numbers. And even then, it's left up to you to choose to use what's suggested, or not to use it. Nobody here can or will tyrannize you.

And even if you simply don't like to read about it, you're still not being tyrannized. Nobody is making you read that post or thread.

It's not an irresistable tendency if you are able to resist it, as it seems you are. You can't prevent others from thinking what they want to, however.

But what is still in common? Love of cycing, desire to share our perspectives with those of similar experience in certain ways, and to have this community.

Let's go for a bike ride! .... Damn, it's winter! Pass the scotch.
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Old 01-02-11, 02:39 PM
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Originally Posted by jackb View Post
Have you ever noticed that in many interests or hobbies, there is an irresistible tendency to turn them into some sort of numbers or statistics. ... Why do we need to quantify most everything? .
Because that's who we are. It's part of human nature and the result natural selection. Those who counted, classified, differentiated, categorized, etc had more environmental "fitness" than those who didn't and we're their decendants.

Take a look at Donald Brown's list of human universals and note the number of human characteristics related to categorizing, classifying and differentiating. Brown is an anthroplogist who made his career's focus finding out what were common between all cultures rather than what distinguished one from another. His list, originally about 400 items, contains those things which are found in every known human culture. Not most or almost all, but every one. As such it's a microscope focused on who we are and is pertinent to your question.

https://condor.depaul.edu/mfiddler/hyphen/humunivers.htm
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Old 01-02-11, 03:36 PM
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Numbers work because you can understand them. It puts a point to which you can relate.--PSA-Cholesterol and I dare say some others.

Same with cycling but I have different values. It is no longer how many miles- or how much climbing- but how many of those miles or that much climbing was worth it. I can do a 30 mile commute back from work. I do this occasionally because I enjoy cycling but that commute is not cycling- 50% of it is avoiding traffic or finding a route without lights every 100 yards. The other 50% is good riding with a few slopes- a few fast miles and some good scenery.

But numbers work for me. I like to know that I must be fit that as particular ride will take that particular time. If it takes longer then something is wrong--With me- the bike or the weather----Or it may just be that I forget the numbers and just enjoy the scenery.
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Old 01-02-11, 03:42 PM
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I try to keep the number simple. No bike computer. My most common ride is my commute to work. When I ride to work I pretty much count it as 34 miles. Sometimes it's more, sometimes less, but I'm not going to say I rode 33.428 miles one day and 37.844 another. That's just st00pid. I try to keep track of recreational miles, but even then I figure +/- a few miles. I sketch it up on Google maps maybe, but don't worry about getting it perfect.

Time? Speed? I pay little attention to those.
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Originally Posted by bragi "However, it's never a good idea to overgeneralize."
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Old 01-02-11, 03:56 PM
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Start trying to describe how far, how fast, how often, or what time you ride without numbers, and you'll realize just how useful they are.
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Old 01-02-11, 04:23 PM
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I don't worry about too many numbers. Some of the ones I'm concerned with are:
  • the ones on the bathroom scale
  • how much water I drank while riding
  • average speed compared to last year
  • today's miles
  • how cold the temperature is when I leave on my ride (late fall, winter, early spring only)
  • how many gears are left when I'm half way up "heart attack hill"
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Old 01-02-11, 05:04 PM
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Numbers are good for preparing for a ride, especially one of length or if you time is important. I ride with different people on different days and there is a difference in length of time and/or miles. A 20 miler on the tandem with the wife is about 1 hour and 1 bottle of water each.

Where as I did an 80 miler with a couple friend up north in NH over 4 mountain passes and the time and beverage requirements were greatly different.

Numbers are a great help when planning in regard to safety, etc.

But I could not tell you how many overall miles I rode this year. I only remember I enjoyed riding them, no matter the challenge!

Where is the Spring!!!!!
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Old 01-02-11, 09:30 PM
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The local obsession with doing centuries gets a little tedious. I also find the mileage some people claim to get from their chains to be a little optimistic. bk
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Old 01-02-11, 10:15 PM
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I recall a high school teacher who quoted Mark Twain as saying, "There are liars, damn liars, and then there are statistics".

But then in many cultures and societies, truth matters. Numbers don't lie, unless its somehow manipulated (statistics).
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Old 01-02-11, 10:16 PM
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Originally Posted by bkaapcke View Post
The local obsession with doing centuries gets a little tedious. I also find the mileage some people claim to get from their chains to be a little optimistic. bk
I'll second the chain mileage, I seem to get to "800" and it's just getting to the "well you should be thinking about it mark", at 1000 it's at the "CHANGE IT NOW" mark, LOL! Yes, I clean and re-lube on a fairly constant basis during a month. Still some have said they got 4000 miles out of a chain, how the heck did they do that**********?
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Old 01-02-11, 11:32 PM
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Originally Posted by milmo View Post
Because that's who we are. It's part of human nature and the result natural selection. Those who counted, classified, differentiated, categorized, etc had more environmental "fitness" than those who didn't and we're their decendants.

Take a look at Donald Brown's list of human universals and note the number of human characteristics related to categorizing, classifying and differentiating. Brown is an anthroplogist who made his career's focus finding out what were common between all cultures rather than what distinguished one from another. His list, originally about 400 items, contains those things which are found in every known human culture. Not most or almost all, but every one. As such it's a microscope focused on who we are and is pertinent to your question.

https://condor.depaul.edu/mfiddler/hyphen/humunivers.htm
Thanks. Now I feel a little less odd about my constant counting habit. If my wife goes into a store while I wait outside, she always asks what I was counting (usually the relative numbers of cars to light trucks or the percentage of people who are visibly overweight/obese). I count the number of motor vehicles that pass me on a given ride as well as the percentage of them who did so legally (about half usually) and the number of other cyclists I see (too few, no matter how many). It's nice to be able to blame part of my obsession on people long-dead.
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Old 01-03-11, 02:22 AM
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Stats gives us bragging rights.

I could say that people who don't care about stats seem to be the arty types who compose poetry, paint pictures, and like to spend other people's money without accountabiity.

But I won't, because that might offend someone here.
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Old 01-03-11, 05:42 AM
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Originally Posted by Rowan View Post
Stats gives us bragging rights.

I could say that people who don't care about stats seem to be the arty types who compose poetry, paint pictures, and like to spend other people's money without accountabiity.

But I won't, because that might offend someone here.
I'm REALLY glad you didn't say that. Otherwise, some of us might feel insulted, and we don't need yet another "war."

To me, part of the concern stems (at least I think so) from the "bean counters" in finances and industry to whom the ONLY God that they seem to worship is the "bottom line" - numbers. This - without any philosophical or other base of "right and wrong" or implications for society in the long run - or even the short run.

So, in the name of "numbers" (short-term profits) they have practically ruined our country.

Somewhere, we have to balance in some of those "arty" things - philosophy, concepts of "right and wrong" - family - love, etc.

I know this is carrying a discussion about quanitfying bicycle riding a little over the top, but there HAS to be more to it that how many miles one has gone, how fast, average speed, how many heart beats, etc., etc. At least there has to be more to it for ME. The beautiful suinrise, the family time at low speed and mileage, the herd of deer or the interesting and quaint buildings on a special route and many other "special" opportunities. Hey, folks, I believe these are important also.
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Old 01-03-11, 06:07 AM
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Originally Posted by Garfield Cat View Post
I recall a high school teacher who quoted Mark Twain as saying, "There are liars, damn liars, and then there are statistics".

But then in many cultures and societies, truth matters. Numbers don't lie, unless its somehow manipulated (statistics).
This is my general relationship to numbers and other data. It provides a reality check.

I also use numbers to motivate and improve. Some of these numbers are health related. I control my weight (a number) by cycling on a regular basis (more numbers).

Without some numerical guidance, I would be a lose motivation and would not accomplish much. My quality of life and health would decline.

Michael
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Old 01-03-11, 06:15 AM
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We are no longer human? Just a bunch of numbers?
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Old 01-03-11, 06:16 AM
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Originally Posted by DnvrFox View Post
I'm REALLY glad you didn't say that. Otherwise, some of us might feel insulted, and we don't need yet another "war."

To me, part of the concern stems (at least I think so) from the "bean counters" in finances and industry to whom the ONLY God that they seem to worship is the "bottom line" - numbers. This - without any philosophical or other base of "right and wrong" or implications for society in the long run - or even the short run.

So, in the name of "numbers" (short-term profits) they have practically ruined our country.

Somewhere, we have to balance in some of those "arty" things - philosophy, concepts of "right and wrong" - family - love, etc.

I know this is carrying a discussion about quanitfying bicycle riding a little over the top, but there HAS to be more to it that how many miles one has gone, how fast, average speed, how many heart beats, etc., etc. At least there has to be more to it for ME. The beautiful suinrise, the family time at low speed and mileage, the herd of deer or the interesting and quaint buildings on a special route and many other "special" opportunities. Hey, folks, I believe these are important also.
I do agree with you to a large extent.

Really, it's like everything else in life -- achieving a balance.

For example, Machka and I discussed this briefly at dinner/supper tonight. She is a cycling figures fan. And she gains a lot of pleasure out of it. I suppose that's where it starts and finishes.

Anyway, she has recorded every ride and kilometre she has ridden since 29 April 1990. It's extensive, and it has enabled her to track trends in her training leading up to, say, her long-distance rides. She can look back and tell if a certain training regimen worked or not, and whether it might be worth repeating.

I started keeping my own stats in 2008, although the past 18 months sort of went haywire for various bushfire-related issues. But when it comes to discussions like those on BengeBoy's Century Rides thread, I can't remember what happened prior to 2008 to respond accurately to some of his question. If I had those stats, it would be a piece of cake.

Keepng stats also has a relationship to our well-being -- we can track our physical activity and identify if our weight gain or loss has been influenced.

Having said that, the reasons why Machka and I ride randonnees, and tour, and generally ride around our neighbourhood are also to enjoy the experience, not to simply gather stats on our rides. Yes, we ride quite long distances -- a century is a training ride for us. But we seek out new experiences -- places to go and see -- rather than just do the same old circuit for those rides. We enjoy the challenges of going further or faster or simply just finishing in adverse weather.

And she takes far more photographs than she compiles stats on these rides.
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Old 01-03-11, 07:04 AM
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Originally Posted by Doohickie View Post
I try to keep the number simple. No bike computer. My most common ride is my commute to work. When I ride to work I pretty much count it as 34 miles. Sometimes it's more, sometimes less, but I'm not going to say I rode 33.428 miles one day and 37.844 another. That's just st00pid. I try to keep track of recreational miles, but even then I figure +/- a few miles. I sketch it up on Google maps maybe, but don't worry about getting it perfect.

Time? Speed? I pay little attention to those.

My camp exactly. When I picked up my new Carbon Cannondale my first ride was without my Strada double wireless. I found I didn't miss the info one bit. 6 months and many miles later (don't ask me how many!, I don't know) I still don't miss the data and enjoy riding more than ever.

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Old 01-03-11, 08:17 AM
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I am somewhere in between on this (in the fat part of the bell curve? ). I set mileage goals and track my miles during individual rides, but I don't track overall mileage by month or year. I am loosely aware of my average speed so that I can predict how long a planned ride may take. It also gives me a general idea of my fitness. I do not make charts. That reminds me of work.

I made the mistake of pledging to ride a mile for every dollar donated for a cancer charity last year. While I enjoyed raising the money and the awareness, I did not like having to record my miles. I'll find a different way to raise funds this year.

I often ride with a GPS unit which tracks all sorts of things. I notice the numbers, but they are not the main interest. I mostly enjoy making maps for sharing with others who ride in the area.

This is not to say anyone else should be the same way about this. People are different, thank goodness. Do what works for you.
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Old 01-03-11, 08:42 AM
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Originally Posted by bjjoondo View Post
I'll second the chain mileage, I seem to get to "800" and it's just getting to the "well you should be thinking about it mark", at 1000 it's at the "CHANGE IT NOW" mark, LOL! Yes, I clean and re-lube on a fairly constant basis during a month. Still some have said they got 4000 miles out of a chain, how the heck did they do that**********?
I easily get 2500-3000 miles or one season on a chain. Shimano ultegra 10 speed variety. Clean every 200 to 300 miles. There go those darn numbers again. Edit: I lube with Purple Extreme. Doesn't collect grit like some others.
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Old 01-03-11, 12:31 PM
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Originally Posted by DnvrFox View Post
To me, part of the concern stems (at least I think so) from the "bean counters" in finances and industry to whom the ONLY God that they seem to worship is the "bottom line" - numbers. This - without any philosophical or other base of "right and wrong" or implications for society in the long run - or even the short run.

So, in the name of "numbers" (short-term profits) they have practically ruined our country.
Hold on a sec, Dnv... As an accountant, I can tell you that the discipline (accountant, engineer, marketeer) from which one approaches business has little to do with whether one is people oriented or not, socially concious or not, or whether one has a near or long term focus. The term "bean-counter" is generally associated with us accountants. If you are using it that way in your comment, then I strenuously object. Those are fighting words. If you use it to mean folks like those (from several different disciplines, especially including the politicians) who created the financial mess we've been going through, then okay.
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Old 01-03-11, 02:18 PM
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Originally Posted by AzTallRider View Post
Hold on a sec, Dnv... As an accountant, I can tell you that the discipline (accountant, engineer, marketeer) from which one approaches business has little to do with whether one is people oriented or not, socially concious or not, or whether one has a near or long term focus. The term "bean-counter" is generally associated with us accountants. If you are using it that way in your comment, then I strenuously object. Those are fighting words. If you use it to mean folks like those (from several different disciplines, especially including the politicians) who created the financial mess we've been going through, then okay.
I meant the Ken Lays of the world, and, yes, the politicians who do it also. Not the guys/gals who don't make the company-wide decisions.
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Old 01-03-11, 02:55 PM
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"Stats gives us bragging rights.

That's as may be, but apparently contribute nothing otherwise to intelligent observation.

I could say that people who don't care about stats seem to be the arty types who compose poetry, paint pictures, and like to spend other people's money without accountabiity.

But I won't, because that might offend someone here."

But you did ... hence the silly riposte interpolated above
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Old 01-03-11, 03:06 PM
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Originally Posted by Rowan View Post
Stats gives us bragging rights.
IOW, a way to compete without "competing".

SP
Bend, OR
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Old 01-03-11, 03:14 PM
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Originally Posted by DnvrFox View Post
I meant the Ken Lays of the world, and, yes, the politicians who do it also. Not the guys/gals who don't make the company-wide decisions.
I ran a global development company in the energy sector. Key Lay and a few others were felons. Since I made company wide decisions, made money for investors and I am not a felon, where do you put me?
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