Friday, October 23, 2009

Anal-Retentive People Like Numbers

Anal-retentive people (such as me) like numbers.

We like to use numbers to analyze things and measure things in order to make decisions that ordinary folk would just make on "gut-feel". This satisfies our preoccupation with details and organization. It feels good to us.

One example...

How do you decide whether to go to a particular regatta? You probably take into account such factors as the likely weather, how attractive the sailing venue is, who else is going, how much fun it will be... and then just go.

Not me. Not anal-retentive people. We need to work the numbers first.

It all started after that invitation I received to sail in the Asia-Pacific Laser Masters in Thailand next year. I wrote about it in the ironically titled Small World. "Ironic" because as I wrote the post I was actually thinking, "It's not a small world at all. Thailand is a hell of a long way to travel to go Laser sailing. How many hours would I have to spend cramped up in an airplane?"

Ahah. I had asked myself a question with a number as an answer. I could put a number on the "to go or not to go" question. And for that matter I could work out how many hours of traveling vs how many hours of sailing are involved for any regatta I might be considering.

Ahah. A ratio. Even better than a number. Anal-retentive people love ratios.

So I built myself a spreadsheet to calculate the hours sailing divided by hours travelling for all the potential sailing practices, clinics and regattas that I could conceivably attend.

Ahah. A spreadsheet. Even better than a ratio. Anal-retentive people love spreadsheets.

So now I can read off the S/T ratios and decide which sailing trips I really want to do. Here are a few examples. (A higher S/T means more sailing and less travelling and is a "good thing").

As a baseline I calculated the S/T for two sailing activities I have really enjoyed in the past...
  • frostbiting at Cedar Point YC in Connecticut travelling from my former home in New Jersey
  • Saturday afternoon practice at Lake Massapoag in Massachusetts travelling from my current home in Rhode Island
They both came out with S/Ts of approximately 1.000. (Anal-retentive people absolutely love meaningless decimal places.)

So then I looked at a couple of other options for sailing locally...
  • solo practice for a couple of hours somewhere very local
  • one day regatta at one of the relatively nearby locations around southern New England
These both came out with S/Ts of approximately 4.000. Woo hoo. That's very good.

What about driving longer distances to regattas?
  • One-day regatta in Vermont or New Hampshire. S/T=0.667
  • Drive to Florida for Laser Masters Week. S/T=0.640

Wow. That's bad. What a shame. I really wanted to go and sail in some of those other New England locations, and that Florida Masters Week sure sounded like fun. But the numbers do not lie.

How about overseas travel to regattas? (For the sake of simplicity, in this calculation I counted airplane hours and car hours as equally painful and monotonous, and just added them together.)
  • Caribbean Midwinters and pre-regatta clinic in Cabarete. S/T=1.050
  • 2010 Laser Masters Worlds in UK. S/T=1.500
Hmmm. Interesting. Not bad. But not as good as doing local regattas or local practice. Perhaps less is more?

And what about the regatta that started all this anal-retentive obsessive-compulsive decision making by the numbers orgy?
  • 2010 Asia Pacific Laser Masters in Thailand. S/T=0.420

Of course this way of looking at the issue will only make sense to other anal-retentive people. I'm sure this post is going to attract lots of comments from so-called "normal" people who think I'm crazy to analyze things this way, and who will urge me to seize the opportunity to travel all over the world to see exciting places and meet all kinds of new people, and who will tell me how the actual physical travel is all part of the experience and not to be seen as something to be balanced against the sailing, and who will chide me that if I took my analysis to its logical conclusion I would never travel outside of my tiny little state of Rhode Island.

Of course you are right. You are normal. I am not.

My name is Tillerman and I am an anal-retentive.


EscapeVelocity said...

Asking the question "Is it a circuit stop?" is simpler. Provided, of course, you can manage not to be the person responsible for organizing the circuit.

Tillerman said...

What's a circuit stop?

Aggel said...

I used to think everybody makes their decisions that way - life taught different ;-)
Lucky you that costs don't show up in the equation!

Tillerman said...

Watch this space Aggel. Developing the regatta cost benefit spreadsheet is the next task!

Beau Vrolyk said...

Tillerman, I think you're doing a bang up job of analizing (sic?) everything, you've just left out some of the numbers that matter.

In addition to time on the water vs travel time you really should include things like: ADF (Average Drinking Factor), FWF (Fun With Friends), RNP (Random New Person, that you meet while traveling). There are a ton of 'em and you could make some really cool formuli that include neat sigma signs where you integrate over stuff.

Have fun!

O Docker said...

You're not fooling me one bit. You are an anal retentive wannabe.

Where are the graphs ?

Tillerman said...

Quite right O Docker.

Here is the graph.

Sam Chapin said...

I am 5 minutes from the Lake. So for 2 hours of racing and 5 minutes home again.

What is that? A 12.00. I am sure some people can beat that.

Tillerman said...

When I lived in NJ I was 2 minutes from the lake. I would go out at 9:30 and race all morning, teach at lunchtime, and then sail for fun in the afternoon. So about 6 hours sailing for 4 minutes walk.


Pat said...

Not all hours of sailing are the same; sailing with good competition, expert coaching, challenging or novel conditions, or fantastic scenery and excellent wind and water conditions all count for something more than just fooling around in the same old piece of bay. All of these parameters must be evaluated and analyzed so you can apply the appropriate weighted quality factors or multipliers to the sailing time units, with appropriate error bars to account for variable or unpredictable elements. And, of course these factors would be developed based on your personal sailing goals, and would be different for other sailors.

Costs of course include opportunity costs; for example, you might not be missing a lot of great sailing in RI in January so the ratio is very high for the sailing you get by traveling south compared to the sailing you miss out on by leaving home, though even in January you could incur other opportunity costs, such as time lost for spending with grandchildren.

Carol Anne said...

I believe Pat's trying to say that your formula is too simplistic. You're going to have to come up with numbers for all of those other factors.

Of course, with the right numbers, you can prove just about anything.

Tillerman said...

Quite right Pat and Carol Anne.

Of course Pat is a past master at analyzing difficult decisions by assigning numerical values to all the factors. See Guessing the Odds on a Teen Circumnavigation.

jbushkey said...

The only logical solution is...

Buy a cruising sailboat. You can sail to the masters. Imagine the ratio!!! 2 months of sailing to get to a few hours of racing=100% sailing!

Tillerman said...

Jbuskey - wow. What a great idea. Sail across the Pacific with a Laser strapped to the deck of my cruising yacht. Island hop across Polynesia and Micronesia sailing my Laser in every lagoon along the way. Write a blog post from every island. Write a book about my adventure. Become rich and famous.

Wait. Don't get carried way Tillerman. I need to check this idea out with some spreadsheets and graphs.

Brian said...

This is fantastic, but I agree that a race quality factor needs to be included as well as some sort of sliding scale for driving- more distance/time on the car should be worse.

Btw would you like a link to my chart analyzing my physical training- fatigue vs fitness? Back-engineered it from a paper I found at a software website- still thinking about how to do something similar for actual sailing not just general "conditioning"

you are not alone.

Tillerman said...

Thanks Brian. I saw that chart on Facebook and I have no idea what it means. Too many 3-letter acronyms.

Hmmm. I have an idea for a new post. Anal-Retentive People Like 3-Letter Acronyms.

Seriously, why don't you post a brief explanation of that chart for your FB friends.

Greg and Kris said...

It makes me happy that 9 x 2 = 18 and 1 and 8 make 9; 9 x 3 = 27 and 2 and 7 make 9; 9 x 4 = 36 and 3 and 6 make 9; and so forth.

This sort of order helps me stay in balance, since I have to live in the same world at the same time as El Rusho and Glen Beck

O Docker said...

So it wasn't just me.

I went just ga-ga when I discovered that thing about the nines table in third grade. It was right up there with the most wondrous, unexplained mysteries of life, like Oreo cookies and why girls couldn't throw a baseball right.

Greg and Kris said...

They can go left though. My wife prefers to go left. Jerry couldn't go right, if I recall.

Jack of all Trades said...

I do not think you're crazy. Although I might add a modifier for different qualities of sailing time (i.e. "new/interesting venue" could add a 1.500x modifier to the sailing time).

To me, this post begs the question: What type of boat would one buy if we did this kind of analysis but substituted $$ instead of time-to-commute.

Jack of all Trades said...

My prediction, by the way, is that your analysis would lead you to buy a Laser.


Tillerman said...

You might be right Jack. On the hand if you buy a Laser you are tempted to travel to all these interesting regattas all over the world and end up spending thousands of dollars to travel to places like Australia and Spain and maybe even Thailand.

Dare I say it, I suspect the Force 5 would end up much better dollar-wise. You would only be tempted to travel to places like New Jersey and Long Island... and those are much easier temptations to resist.

bonnie said...

The finance analyst whose latest post involves a series of ladybug photos organized by wing spot size loves the concept.

I've never done a boating-related spreadsheet (oh, except a pretty simplistic one tracking storage slots available in the Hudson River Park, back when I still cared about that), but I tend to think the same way, albeit in a more simplified fashion.

For day to day paddling, if it's going to take me more time getting to the water & getting ready than I expect to spend on the water, I usually end up finding some less logistic-laden way of entertaining myself.

Normal people would think that a person would want to do shorter paddles in the winter than the summer - but in fact it's precisely the opposite for me.

Minimum summer paddle worth doing is about 2 hours. Perfect amount of time for a post-work paddle, in fact.

Wintertime, with all the extra crap to gather (and put on, and take off, and wash, and have cluttering up the bathroom until it dries & I get around to putting it away) anything less than about 4 hours just isn't worth the hassle.

Of course if I were to do a similar cost-benefit spreadsheet for paddling, I'd have to add the weight & volume of gear to be schlepped to the "cost" side. The hassle factor differential between toting a daypack with summer gear and the giant duffel required for winter gear is HUGE.

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