Stairway to... Mt. Washington

Every March a group of Shepley Bulfinch employees (and friends) makes an excursion to the summit of Mount Washington. Situated in the the Presidential Range of the White Mountains in New Hampshire, Mount Washington is notorious for unexpected weather changes. Average temperatures for the month of March are a high of 20 degrees and a low of 5, with sustained wind gusts of up to 60 mph at the summit that can easily create a subzero windchill. Hiking at the tail end of Winter often means that crampons, ice axes, interchangeable layers, and many pairs of dry gloves are required equipment.

The hike itself lasts approximately 7-9 hours, covering 10.5 miles and nearly 4,250 vertical feet. After many months of hibernation during the blustery Boston Winter, serious training is necessary to prepare for the quad-burning ascent. Beginning 6-8 weeks prior to the climb, individuals begin hiking the egress staircase of the office building with reams of paper in their packs to simulate the weight of equipment and provisions carried on the day of the climb. This year everyone began recording their training sessions to stir up a little friendly competition and here are the results...

There are 16 floors in the office building and an approximated 736 average steps per lap (all the way up and down once) after accounting for the stairs, landings, intermittent stretch breaks, etc. Therefore it is estimated that the entire team collectively climbed roughly 349 laps, 11,168 floors, and took 257,269 total steps.

It looks like Monday, Wednesday, and Friday were overwhelmingly popular for making the time to fit in stair training around busy work schedules and other committments.

Here is the breakdown of number of laps per person:

...And an analysis of the average time per lap:
Notice that as weight and amount of laps increased, overall time would often slow down significantly.

We lucked out this year with sunny, warm weather for the entire hike. Everyone summited successfully and it was another fun-filled team experience.

Special thanks to our fearless guide David Meek who year-after-year invests hours of preparation and tireless effort to ensure a safe journey for all!

When 'Moneyball' Meets Ski Racing

This winter I joined an adult ski racing league and got back into the sport for the first time in over a decade. Each week racer performance is entered into a complex scoring rubric that determines overall team standings. After seven weeks of racing, this rich dataset was too tempting for a data visualization enthusiast like myself to pass up.

How the scoring works:

  • Each team consists of four members, they can be any combination of males and females.

  • Races occur once a week and two courses are set side-by-side, one red and one blue.

  • Every racer gets two runs per race, once on each course.

  • The racers are ranked according to previous week performance and are paired up by number, this means that you are racing an opponent on every run.

  • 2 Points are awarded if you earn a faster time than your opponent on each run. If your opponent does not show up to race that night and you succesfully finish your run, you receive an easy Win.

  • 2 Points are awarded if your time on a particular course is faster than the time you earned on that course (red or blue) the previous week.

  • Up to 4 Points are available if you earn a time within a given handicap time range. The breakdown of these times is as follows:

How the adjusted handicap time is calculated:

  • Every week, one or two pacesetters will ski the course before all the racers. Their times are divided by their individual nationally-certified handicap percentages to determine the best possible time on that particular course.

  • The fastest of the two pacesetter times is then multiplied against all of the other racers’ times to determine each person’s adjusted handicap time.

[To become certified, they attend a Regional Pacesetting Trials event where their top times are compared directly to those of US Olympian, Ted Ligety. To learn more about pacesetting, CLICK HERE.]

Back to scoring:

  • Each week racers can earn up to 12 Points for their team.

  • The top three highest scores from each team are taken and added to the team’s overall total.

  • At the end of seven weeks, the top 5 teams from each night of the week (Monday-Thursday) are qualified to compete in one final championship race. The highest scoring team wins.

At first the results were posted as paper print-outs which resulted in a few hours of manual data entry to build the initial database. After establishing a database, complex calculations were required to reverse engineer the scoring system and then emulate the score keeping based on each racer’s weekly results. Once again I turned to Dynamo’s visual programming capabilities to build a tool that could process all of the information.

Eventually the Nashoba ATR staff began posting the results to their website on a weekly basis which eliminated the need for both data entry and using Dynamo to compute all of the adjusted times and scoring. I could then quickly scrape the latest data each week and dump it into an excel spreadsheet where specific metrics were calculated. After using the handy data reshaper add-in for Excel, each spreadsheet was pivoted and then imported in Tableau for visualization. Now the performance of teammates against the rest of the league could be easily understood graphically:

As well as overall league standings:

The complexity of the scoring system made for a relatively fair, enjoyable, and competitive experience regardless of age or gender. It also created some very interesting visualizations such as the breakdown of scoring by age and gender for the first four weeks:

And the median age and time per race:

[Notice how the more “experienced” racers generally smoked the rest of the field.]

Ultimately the data helped me quickly understand the league and identify the nuances in scoring that could help improve my performance. It felt to get back out in the course after so many years, I cannot wait to do it again next season!

Shout out to my teammates and special thanks to Nashoba Valley Ski Area for generously posting results online and weekly updates. The original dataset can be viewed HERE.

PRCA Rodeo Map

Hebron Harvest Fair Rodeo - Hebron, CT

Hebron Harvest Fair Rodeo - Hebron, CT

Growing up in the agrarian state of Oregon, attending local rodeos during the summer was a favorite family activity. The raw athleticism, toughness, and tradition always made for good entertainment. The humility, sense of community, and incredible treatment of livestock instilled a deep admiration for the country folk for whom rodeo is their entire livelihood.

Unlike most professional sports, the cowboys and cowgirls are responsible for personally funding their own equipment, horses, lodging, and transportation. Their lives consist of driving hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles between weekends to make it to the next rodeo where they compete for a paltry winner-takes-all purse in the 4-5 figure range. A missed lasso toss, a momentary loss of balance, or an overturned barrel can be the difference between earning enough to cover a few more weeks of food, gas, and supplies, or heading to the next event empty-handed. As if the meagre earnings aren’t enough of a deterrent, the physical toll and life-risking courage the sport demands are further testament to the passion and dedication these athletes possess.

Now having lived in Boston for the better part of a decade, my rodeo participation has been reduced to the occasional visit home or sporadic television broadcasts. Recently I was ecstatic to discover a rodeo in Northern Connecticut, however I had my doubts about the level of competition and authenticity. Given that the majority of rodeos occur in the western and southern portions of the United States, I wondered how much incentive an athlete would have to drive all the way to New England to compete. My curiosity got the better of me and I decided to look for a map of all rodeos in a given season of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA), only to to find that no such map exists on the internet. Thus I set out to make my own map...

Data Acquisition:
The first step was to acquire the schedule for the 2015 rodeo season. The PRCA website does not contain a cohesive schedule for the entire season but does post the remaining season schedule as well as the results of each event that has already occured. Luckily the construction of the website is very simple, which made for easy scraping of the data into a format that can be processed.

PRCA 2015 Results
PRCA 2015 Remaining Schedule

Parsing and Re-structuring with Dynamo:
After collecting the lists of information for both the remaining schedule and results, I set out to use Autodesk Dynamo Studio 2016 to parse and re-structure the data for visualization. With the knowledge that the National Finals Rodeo event in Las Vegas in December marks the culmination of every rodeo season, I pared down all events to this timeframe, resulting in 620 total contests. This is a prime example of Dynamo as a powerful visual programming platform independent of Revit.

Visualization with Tableau:
The next step was to merge the two data sources and organize the information by: event name, city, state, country, and first day of event. Once everything was clean and consistent, I exported the data to Tableau for visualization. The Tableau map feature allowed me to position all 620 rodeos across the US and Canada and colorize them based on when they take place during the course of the season.

In the end I was surprised to see a moderate cluster of dots in the New England region and was particularly pleased to find rodeos in Western New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Maine. Perhaps there is a contingent of die-hard New England cowboys and cowgirls keeping the spirit of rodeo alive in the East? Regardless, my respect and admiration for this sport will always keep me coming back for more and I look forward to checking out the local rodeo scene. Enjoy!

Dynamo Studio "definition" for parsing and re-structuring the PRCA rodeo data.

Dynamo Studio "definition" for parsing and re-structuring the PRCA rodeo data.