Embracing Your Inner Statistician

[Disclaimer: I mention a few sites and programs in the course of this article. Rest assured, I’m not trying to advertise any of them, nor do I get any compensation for doing so. They just happen to fit with the subject matter.]

Embracing Your Inner Statistician

9/27/08

Kenneth Burchfiel

 

    
 

    One of man’s great pursuits is to make the daily grind more interesting. We tune into the radio during the daily commute, hunt out a new place to eat on our lunch break and accessorize our cubicles with whatever accessories seem convenient. If it weren’t for these little touches, we might have keeled over in boredom.

    Family photos and radio stations aside, there is one more way to break the monotony of everyday life: measure it. Keep track of how many miles your employer makes you fly. See how many keystrokes that proposal took. Best of all, record the days where you’re forced to walk to the bus stop in sub-zero temperatures. Logging not only makes the everyday routine a little more interesting, but creates a sense of progress when you see just how far you’ve come.

    The following are just a few ways to make use of your copy of Excel or Numbers. Who knows? You might have been cut out for a career in figures after all.

 

    Track your flights. Frequent flier or not, you might enjoy seeing how many miles you’ve spent in the sky. It doesn’t take a pile of ticket receipts to accomplish this, either.

    A relatively unknown site called “Flightmemory.com” not only helps you keep track of all your flight statistics, but—with the origin and destination you enter into the program—creates a personal flight map showing where you’ve been in the world. Whenever you go on a trip, just enter the details (airports, airline and plane) into your user account to make use of the features the site offers. If you’re really bored, go to your main page and see how much further you have to fly to get to the moon—or the sun.    

    For a simpler approach, just create a spreadsheet with columns for the date, airline, destination and departure and arrival airports. Flightaware, another site made specifically for aviation geeks, will let you see the distance (and time of flight) between two airports. By compiling all this data, you can see how long you’ve had to endure economy class—or, perhaps, how long you’ve been able to enjoy time in business or first. (In the latter case, just ask your secretary or butler to do all this work for you.)

 

    Log your keystrokes. This might be the nerdiest idea on the list, but you’d be surprised at how fast those letter hits can add up. If you spend at least a few hours on the computer each day, try downloading Whatpulse—a free and detailed program—onto your computer’s taskbar. The site not only measures how many clicks and keys you amass over time, but lets you see which keys you hit the most. (Using the “Key Frequencies” feature, I discovered that I’ve hit the “E” key 5,005 times in the last few days, but—in that same span—have only typed 36 Q’s.)

    Of course, if you want to unleash your inner geek along with your inner statistician, try joining or creating a “Typing Team” on the Whatpulse site. This is not a joke. To increase your rank, simply type and click more than the other 7,000 or so registered groups. (You are also assigned an individual rank, which should increase over the lifetime of your keyboard use.)

    If you want to disprove your boss’s allegations that you’re not doing enough work at the computer, try saving your daily statistics to a spreadsheet on your computer. The next time she criticizes your work ethic, tell her, “Really? Why, I’ve logged 375,000 keystrokes this week!”

 

     Follow your footsteps. In the last 20 days, I’ve walked far enough to get from my house to southern Pennsylvania. At least, that’s what my pedometer says.

    It doesn’t take a jogging schedule or a workout regimen for a pedometer to be of interest. By putting a stopwatch-sized device in your pocket and going about your business, you can easily amass thousands—even tens of thousands—of footsteps a day.

    Pedometers aren’t even particularly hard to find; even my cell phone has one. With just a little time spent buying one and keeping track of the results on a spreadsheet, you can boast to your friends that you’ve walked far enough to get to the ocean—or beyond. At the very least, you might find yourself inspired to walk to the grocery store instead of driving there. There’s nothing wrong in inflating your step count.

 

    Keep watch on the weather. Most of the people on your block have a stick or dial thermometer that tells them how warm it is at the moment. You can do better than that.

    One nifty byproduct of the digital revolution has been the digital thermometer. Though more expensive than the convenience store standard, these electronic devices often measure pressure (a vital figure in forecasting the weather) and indoor and outdoor humidity in addition to the temperature. Even better are those that keep track of maximum highs and lows, meaning you don’t have to wake up at 4:30 in the morning to see just how cool it got last night. Just remember: the fancier the system, the more difficulty you might encounter setting it up.

    Though you can find thermometers that automatically upload their data to the computer, there’s no reason to break the bank. Just find a device that will keep track of how hot and cold it gets over a resettable period, then enter the statistics into a computer. You could use this strategy to keep track of the day’s highs and lows if you’re that inclined.

    

    Perhaps the above ideas didn’t sound quite as exciting or useful as you hoped. Just don’t be surprised if flight tracking or keystroke logging becomes the next big thing.

 

Kenneth made 16127 keystrokes and 471 clicks in the process of writing and revising this article.

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