When programmers work out

You might wonder why the stereotype of a programmer is a rather largish person. Here’s the real reason: we can’t stand doing hard things that don’t have data associated with them that we can measure and make pretty graphs about. So let’s say you, normal person, go for a run. You think, “Wow, I’m tired. That was a good run!”.

Here’s what a programmer thinks:
1) Calculate length of run (Google maps)
2) Calculate number of strides executed (pedometer)
3) Measure time elapsed in run (watch)
4) Take samplings of heart rate (???)
5) Calculate calories burned by run (web app)

Really intense programmers might also capture relevant variables like “Hours after eating the run occurred” or “Ounces of water consumed on day of run” or “Mean temperature and humidity during run period” or “Health on a scale of 1 to 10”.

For each run executed, one of those numbers needs to change in order to demonstrate progress. To measure that shift over time, a programmer might chart it all in a nifty spreadsheet/database. Hmmm… maybe that database needs a web front end. I think I could whip that up in jQuery pretty fast. But if there are multiple runners, I’ll need to change my data model. I bet I could turn this in to a great iPhone app….

Man, that’s a lot of work. You know what’s less work? Sitting here at my desk, eating a Snicker’s bar and making my existing data dance. Dance data! Dance!

This is why programmers have trouble exercising. And I am no exception.

Fortunately for me, I’ve found some exercises that throw off the lovely, lovely data I crave. Our elliptical machine at the gym here, for example, is a delight (if only it had some sort of wireless interface so I could download my data!). It gives me length of workout, strides per minute, resistance and heart rate. So if I do the same workout with the same strides per minute at the same resistance… if I’m getting in better shape the heart rate should go down. Mmmm… data.

Today, being an exceptionally lovely day in New England, I decided to go on a run. The last 3 times I did this run, I did not manage to run all the way. I am told it’s about 1.6 miles. I know I am out of shape. But today! Today! I ran the WHOLE WAY. Look ma! One of the variables improved! It’s satisfying to note that nicely empirically-proven improvement.

Maybe next time I’m on the elliptical I can get my peak heart-rate under 180 a minute while holding all the other variables the same. Wheeeeee!!!!!

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Brenda currently lives in Stoneham MA, but grew up in Mineral WA. She is surrounded by men, with two sons, one husband and two boy cats. She plays trumpet at church, cans farmshare produce and works in software.

5 thoughts on “When programmers work out”

  1. You should check out the Nike+ for your runs. I got one & I’m about to see exactly how extensive the data collection is – time, distance, calories burned, & HR if you have the Polar HR monitor. then you can upload it to the nike site & it’ll do all the math & give you a nifty graph over time.

    Good times, good times…



  2. Heh!
    A form of exercise I reliably enjoy is DDR. When I do well, I get a “new record!” Dave does not understand why having scores should make me like it more, but it does, it really does. Progress!


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