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Who Won Sochi? Wrangling Olympic Medal Count Data

I have always been a big fan of the Olympics (albeit I like the Summer Games better given my interest in Track & Field, Fencing and Soccer). However, something that has always bothered me is concept of the Medal Count. For years I have seen countries listed as “winning” because their medal count was higher—even though several countries “below” it often had many more Gold medals. Shouldn’t a Gold medal count for more than a Silver (and much more than a Bronze)? What would you rather have as an athlete: three Gold medals or four Bronzes?

Evidently, I am not the only one debating this point. Googling “value of olympic medals for rank count” yielded a range of debates on the first page alone (Bleacher Report, USA Today, The New Republic, the Washington Post and even Bicycling.com). Wikipedia even has an entry on this debate.

This year, however, I noticed that throughout the games that Google’s medal count stats page (Google “olympic medal count”) was not ranking countries by absolute medal count. For quite a while Norway and Germany were on top—even when they did not have the highest total number of medals—because they had more Gold medals than anyone else. Clearly Google was using a different weighting than “all medals are alike.” Not a surprise given their background in data.

Winter_Games_CoverartI started to wonder what type of weighting they were using. In 1984 (when the Olympics were in Los Angeles) a bunch of gaming companies came out with various Olympic games. Konami’s standup arcade game Track & Field was widely popular (and highly abusive to trackballs). The game I used to play the most (thanks to hacking it) was Epyx’s Summer (and Winter) Games. This game had the “real” challenge of figuring out a “who won the Olympics” as it was a head-to-head multi-player game (someone had to win). It used the 5:3:1 Medal Weighting Model to determine this: each Gold medal was worth 5 points, each Silver 3 points, each Bronze 1. I wondered if Google was using this model, so I decided to wrangle the data and find out.

Data processing

I used Google’s Sochi Olympic Medal Count as my source of data as this had counts and Google ranks of winners (I go this via their Russian site so I could get final results, there were 26 countries who won any Olympic Medal).

Of course, by the end of the Olympics it was a bit less interesting as Russia had both the most medals and the highest rank. However, I still wanted to figure out their weighting as a curious exercise. I built a model that calculated ranks for various Medal Weighting Model (MWM) approaches and calculated the absolute value of all Rank Error deltas from Google’s ranking. I both computed both the sum of these errors (Total Rank Error or TRE) and highlighted any non-zero error, enabling me to quickly see any errors in various MWM weightings.

Trying out a few random models

The first model I tried was the “Bob Costas Model” where every medal is the same (1:1:1). This was a clearly different than Google’s as it a TRE of 72. I then tried the Epyx 5:3:1 model… no dice: this one had a TRE of 35 (better than Bob, but not great). I tried a few other mathematical series:

  • Fibonacci: 0,1,1 (TRE=50); 1,1,2 (TRE=42); and 1,2,3 (TRE=43)
  • Fibonacci Prime (TRE=54)
  • Abundant Numbers (TRE=54)
  • Prime Numbers: (TRE=42)
  • Lucas Numbers (TRE=28)
  • Geometric Sequence (TRE=23)
  • Weird Numbers (TRE=2)
  • Happy Numbers (TRE=39)

I then tried logical sequences such as the lowest ratios where a Silver is worth more than a Bronze, and Gold is worth more than both (TRE=31). Still not luck

Getting more systematic

I decided to get more systematic and begin to visualize the TRE based on different MWM weights. I decided to keep Whole Number weights as I was operating under the general principal that each Medal has N points and that points (true in most sports—but not in things like Diving, Figure Skating and Gymnastics—nevertheless, I wanted to keep things simple).

I first looked at Gold Weight influence, WGOLD:1:1 where I varied WGOLD from 1 upwards. This clearly showed a rapid decay in TRE that flattened out at 2 with Gold was worth 13x that of a single Silver or Bronze medal:

Rapid decay in TRE as Gold medals gain higher weighting
Rapid decay in TRE as Gold medals gain higher weighting

This reinforced that Gold was King, but that Silver was better than Bronze by some value (not surprising). I then kept WGOLD at 13 and started to reduce WBRONZE. I found an interesting result: as soon as I made Bronze worth any value smaller than Silver (even ε = 0.001), I got Zero TRE (a complete match to Google’s Rank). However, I could not image a scoring system of 13:1:<1 (or 13:1:0.99). It was just too geeky. As such I tried a different approaches, all with Whole Number ratios of Gold:Silver:Bronze. The lowest ratios I found with Zero TREs were the following:

  • Gold=21, Silver=2, Bronze=1
  • Gold=29, Silver=3, Bronze=1
  • Gold=40, Silver=4, Bronze=1
  • Gold=45, Silver=5, Bronze=1

TRE never went to zero when Bronze was given Zero weight. Of these models, 40:4:1 had the most symmetry (10:1 to 4:1), so used that is my approximated Google Olympic Rank MDW (it did have zero TRE for all medal winners).

So who won?

I figured I would look at the Top Five Ranked Countries over various models:

Demonstration of how easy it is to add a Grading Curve to the rankings. The higher the TRE the more underweighted winning Gold medals (i.e., truly winning events) is. The country in bold is the one that benefits most from the Grading Curve
Demonstration of how easy it is to add a Grading Curve to the rankings. The higher the TRE the more underweighted winning Gold medals (i.e., truly winning events) is. The country in bold is the one that benefits most from the Grading Curve

Obviously, Russia is the all around winner as they won the most medals and the most Golds and the most Silvers. (Making this exercise a bit less interesting than it was about a week ago). However, it will be fun to apply this in 2016.

And at least Mr Putin is happy.

Unboxing Google Glass

After a second try, I finally got into the Google Glass Explorer program. I tried last year but waited too long to apply (about 36 hours after the application process opened). This time, I moved faster.

As not a lot of people have the opportunity to get to use Glass (I am lucky, my employer is paying for me to explore its use for M2M and IoT), I thought I would share my initial experiences getting—and unboxing—Glass to help those considering entering the program later.

The First Step: Registering for the Explorer Program

Registering for and buying Glass is a bit different, so I thought I would start here. It turns out you will need to link Glass to a Gmail account. As such, I strongly recommend using a Gmail account when you apply to the program. I think Google should add these instructions in the registration process, perhaps if it detects your email is not one that they manage at Gmail or Google Apps.

Application Approval

GlassProgramSmallMy application got approved about 10 days later, via email. The email contained a sixteen-digit alpha purchase code that was very obviously place. It also contains a 16-digit numeric unique ID in much smaller font in the email footer. Keep track of this, as you will need to enter it if you call the Glass Help Center.

I made the mistake of using a corporate email account (one not based on Google Apps). This created a bit of a problem for me, one that required a call to the Glass Help Center to resolve. I can say that the Glass Help Center staff are quite friendly and responsive. Working with them is more akin to a call with a Professional Services team than a call to a typical call center or corporate IT help desk.

Purchasing Glass

It turns out that you can only buy Glass with Google Wallet. As such, your experience will be much easier if you 1) apply with a Gmail account and 2) have a Google Wallet for this account set up in advance. If so, you need only click on the Get Glass URL and proceed. You will be prompted to confirm which Gmail account you want to use, then re-authenticate to Wallet to make your purchase. The entire process should take less than five clicks and one password to complete.

I did it a bit backwards. As the Glass Help Center let me know I would need to have Wallet setup, I was able to log into my Gmail, register for Wallet and add a Payment Method before re-starting my purchase. Once I go my purchase reference code reset, I was able to go through this process pretty quickly (it would have been less fun to stop, setup Wallet, then re-start).

I chose to purchase basic Glass (I picked the Shale color). I did have the option of a few Hipster-like frames that could support prescription lenses. However, I do not wear glasses so I went for the minimalist—and least expensive—options. I did get the free–detachable–Active Shades (essentially Terminator-style sunglass shade). Get these. They are incredibly useful if you are looking at the viewer screen in bright sunlight (a rarity in Boston).

activeshades

Shipping and Delivery

The time from purchase to delivery was amazingly fast: I purchased around 11am, got an email notice that Google was handing off my purchase to UPS around five hours later, and received the package in Boston the next morning by 10am. This next-day shipping was included in the $1,500 price.

What arrives will be a four-pound box about 2x the width and 1.5x the length of a shoebox. Coincidentally, my Glass came on the same day as my new Nexus 7. However as the Nexus was uncharged, I used my iPhone to take all of the following photos:

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Unboxing Glass

I waited until the end of the workday to open the box (I admit the engineer in me wanted to start right away).

Upon opening the UPS box and packing I was presented with a white box with a San Serif Glass logo and XE on the side. The packaging was very similar to what you would see with a high-end product (akin to Lytro and first iPad, but a bit nicer). The back of the box is black (so is the inner cover):

box

The Archive Shades are in their own box (and could be shipped separated based on my initial email receipt). They come in their own “Glass” branded felt sleeve:

IMG_1888

Opening the Glass box reveals a translucent paper screen cover (mysterious?!):

IMG_1864

This cover easily comes off, revealing the Glass with the only written instructions for use that comes in the packaging:

IMG_1878

Lifting this off reveals an interesting felt pouch with an armored base—yes, an armored felt pouch. As the ticket explains, this is intended to protect your Glass when you pack it away (the armored shell makes the pouch 1.75” deep:

IMG_1883

Underneath this pouch is a black card with your ear bud:

IMG_1870

And underneath this is your USB 3.0 cable with detachable electric plug. The cord appears to be 36” long:

IMG_1869

Also included are some replacement nose pads and a funny FAQ. One example:

Q: Can I use Glass while operating a jackhammer?
A: Use caution.

IMG_1884

Charging Glass

When I plugged Glass into charge, it automatically booted up without me pressing the ON button. This can also take up to 30 seconds at times. However, it charges rather quickly (about the same speed that a smartphone charges, much faster than a tablet does).

Setting Up Glass

IMG_1875You will need either an Android or iOS phone or tablet to setup Glass as you will need to install the MyGlass App (iTunes version, Google Play version). I chose to use my iPhone as I did not want to walk around with an Android Tablet in my hand and Google Glass on my face. However, I may pair the phone to my Tablet as well as I experiment with Glass a bit more.

I definitely recommend you turn BlueTooth and your Personal HotSpot on BEFORE launching the MyGlass App and starting the pairing process. As I learned first-hand, it will save you the mess of aborting the process, turning these on (I keep them off to save power), and re-starting the process. I would recommend Google improve the App to detect these settings and notify you to exit and turn them before continuing to device pairing (unfortunately, iOS now forbids apps from turning these settings on for you—a now-needed security precaution in today’s world).

Unfortunately I could not take photos through Glass while I was setting it up (not unexpected). You can see videos of the setup process here, on the Glass YouTube Channel. I admit that setting up Glass created the opportunity for me to imitate Fred Armisen’s infamous Glass skit on SNL. I was very glad I could do this in the privacy of my house, doing it in the office would have created more than a few laughs.

Using Glass

I will now spend the next week playing around with Glass to fully understand the UX before I start thinking about how I would designing how an Glass app would work. However, I can say from my first hour of using Glass that it IS a very different experience, one that takes some getting accustomed to. I want to try to remember this experience so I can design applications that will be immediately useable from Day 1. (I did try to see if I could get actions of Glass to trigger IFTTT–alas, there are no Glass triggers yet).

This does not surprise me. I consider Glass on of Clayton Christensen’s classic disruptive innovations. While it is behind in some areas (the camera is not as good as a standard smartphone, usability is still a work in progress), it provides other capabilities nothing else does.

Final Note: Commercial Applicability of Glass

I know many people think Glass is not a commercially viable product. Some cite price point, others appearance, others limited availability. However, I believe that coupling of SDK from the people who brought us the Operating System with fastest adoption in history with a wide range of capabilities (POV-based camera and microphone, hands-free operation and telephony, voice recognition and Internet access) opens the door to some very interesting augment reality-based applications.

I have always thought the most beneficial Glass apps would be those that mapped to real-life activities—but streamlining them by eliminating the need to use your hands to record information and augmenting them by capturing information from your direct POV and combining this with other information. This could be provide enough benefit to justify Glass’ not-insignificant cost in wide range of business situations, from capturing the vision of a contract artisan or craftsperson (my first idea) to a whole new set of ideas I am now exploring.

Glass is a trademark of Google Inc.