Measured Steps: Garmin step adjustment algorithm

I recently got a new GPS running watch, a Garmin Fēnix 5. As well as tracking runs, cycling and swimming, it does “activity tracking” – number of steps taken in a day, sleep, and so on. The step goals are set to move automatically and I wondered how it worked. With a quick number crunch, the algorithm revealed itself. Read on if you are interested how it works.

Step screen on the Garmin Fēnix 5

The watch started out with a step target of 7500 steps in one day. I missed this by 2801 and the target got reduced by 560 to 6940 for the next day. That day I managed 12480, i.e. 5540 over the target. So the target went up by 560 to 7500. With me so far? Good. So next I went over the target and it went up again (but this time by 590 steps). I missed that target by a lot and the target was reduced by 530 steps. This told me that I’d need to collect a bit more data to figure out how the goal is set. Here are the first few days to help you see the problem.

Actual steps Goal Deficit/Surplus Adjustment for Tomorrow
4699 7500 -2801 -560
12480 6940 5540 560
10417 7500 2917 590
2726 8090 -5364 -530
6451 7560 -1109 -220
8843 7340 1503 150
8984 7490 1494 300
9216 7790 1426 290

The data is available for download as a csv via the Garmin Connect website. After waiting to accumulate some more data, I plotted out the adjustment vs step deficit/surplus. The pattern was pretty clear.

There are two slopes here that pass through the origin. It doesn’t matter what the target was, the adjustment applied is scaled according to how close to the target I was, i.e. the step deficit or surplus. There was either a small (0.1) or large (0.2) scaling used to adjust the step target for the next day, but how did the watch decide which scale to use?

The answer was to look back at the previous day’s activity as well as the current day.

So if today you exceeded the target and you also exceeded the target yesterday then you get a small scale increase. Likewise if you fell short today and yesterday, you get a small scale decrease. However, if you’ve exceeded today but fell short yesterday, your target goes up by the big scaling. Falling short after exceeding yesterday is rewarded with a big scale decrease. The actual size of the decrease depends on the deficit or surplus on that day. The above plot is coloured according to the four possibilities described here.

I guess there is a logic to this. The goal could quickly get unreachable if it increased by 20% on a run of two days exceeding the target, and conversely, too easy if the decreases went down rapidly with consecutive inactivity. It’s only when there’s been a swing in activity that the goal should get moved by the large scaling. Otherwise, 10% in the direction of attainment is fine.

I have no idea if this is the algorithm used across all of Garmin’s watches or if other watch manufacturer’s use different target-setting algorithms.

The post title comes from “Measured Steps” by Edsel from their Techniques of Speed Hypnosis album.

Inspiration Information: some book recommendations for kids

As with children’s toys and clothes, books aimed at children tend to be targeted in a gender-stereotyped way. This is a bit depressing. While books about princesses can be inspirational to young girls – if the protagonist decides to give it all up and have a career as a medic instead (the plot to Zog by Julia Donaldson) – mostly they are not. How about injecting some real inspiration into reading matter for kids?

Here are a few recommendations. This is not a survey of the entire market, just a few books that I’ve come across that have been road-tested and received a mini-thumbs up from little people I know.

Little People Big Dreams: Marie Curie by Isabel Sanchez Vegara & Frau Isa

This is a wonderfully illustrated book that tells the story of Marie Curie. From a young girl growing up in Poland, overcoming gender restrictions to go and study in France and subsequently winning two Nobel Prizes and being a war hero! The front part of the book is written in simple language that kids can read while the last few pages are (I guess) for an adult to read aloud to the child, or for older children to read for themselves.

This book is part of a series which features inspirational women: Ada Lovelace, Rosa Parks, Emmeline Pankhurst, Amelia Earhart. What is nice is that the series also has books on women from creative fields Coco Chanel, Audrey Hepburn, Frida Kahlo, Ella Fitzgerald. Often non-fiction books for kids are centred on science/tech/human rights which is great but, let’s face it, not all kids will engage with these topics. The bigger message here is to show young people that little people with big dreams can change the world.

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty & David Roberts

A story about a young scientist who keeps on asking questions. The moral of the story is that there is nothing wrong with asking “why?”. The artwork is gorgeous and there are plenty of things to spot and look at on each page. The mystery of the book is not exactly solved either so there’s fun to be had discussing this as well as reading the book straight. Ada Marie Twist is named after Ada Lovelace and Marie Curie, two female giants of science.

This book is highly recommended. It’s fun and crammed full with positivity.

Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty & David Roberts

By the same author and illustrator, ‘Rosie Revere…’ tells the story of a young inventor. She overcomes ridicule when she is taken under the wing of her great aunt who is an inspirational engineer. Her great aunt Rose is I think supposed to be Rosie the Riveter, be-headscarfed feminist icon from WWII. A wonderful touch.

Rosie is a classmate of Ada Twist (see above) and there is another book featuring a young (male) architect which we have not yet road-tested. Rather than recruitment propaganda for Engineering degrees, the broader message of ‘Rosie Revere…’ is that persevering with your ideas and interests is a good thing, i.e. never give up.

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli & Francesca Cavallo
A wonderful book that gives brief biographies of inspiring women. Each two page spread has some text and an illustration of the rebel girl to inspire young readers. The book has a This book belongs to… page at the beginning, but in a move of pure genius, the book has two final pages for the owner of the book to write their own story. Just like the women featured in the book, the owner to the book can have their own one page story and draw their own self-portrait.
This book is highly recommended.
EDIT: this book was added to the list on 2018-02-26

Who was Charles Darwin? by Deborah Hopkinson & Nancy Harrison

This is a non-fiction book covering Darwin’s life from school days through the Beagle adventures and on to old age. It’s a book for children although compared to the books above, this is quite a dry biography with a few black-and-white illustrations. This says more about how well the books above are illustrated rather than anything particularly bad about “Who Was Charles Darwin?”. Making historical or biographical texts appealing to kids is a tough gig.

The text is somewhat inspirational – Darwin’s great achievements were made despite personal problems – but there is a disconnect between the life of a historical figure like Darwin and the children of today.

For older people

Quantum Mechanics by Jim Al-Khalili

Aimed at older children and adults, this book explains the basics behind the big concept of “Quantum Mechanics”. These Ladybird Expert books have a retro appeal, being similar to the original Ladybird books published over forty years ago. Jim Al-Khalili is a great science communicator and any young people (or adults) who have engaged with his TV work will enjoy this short format book.

Evolution by Steve Jones

This is another book in the Ladybird Expert series (there is one further book, on “Climate Change”). The brief here is the same: a short format explainer of a big concept, this time “Evolution”. The target audience is the same. It is too dry for young children but perfect for teens and for adults. Steve Jones is an engaging writer and this book doesn’t disappoint, although the format is limited to one-page large text vignettes on evolution with an illustration on the facing page.

It’s a gateway to further reading on the topic and there’s a nice list of resources at the end.



Computing for Kids

After posting this, I realised that we have lots of other children’s science and tech books that I could have included. The best of the rest is this “lift-the-flap” book on Computers and Coding published by Usborne. It’s a great book that introduces computing concepts in a fun gender-free way. It can inspire kids to get into programming perhaps making a step up from Scratch Jr or some other platform that they use at school.

I haven’t included any links to buy these books. Of course, they’re only a google search away. If you like the sound of any, why not drop in to your local independent bookshop and support them by buying a copy there.

Any other recommendations for inspirational reading for kids? Leave a comment below.

The post title comes from the title track of the “Inspiration Information” LP by Shuggie Otis. The version I have is the re-release with  ‘Strawberry Letter 23’ on it from ‘Freedom Flight’ – probably his best known track – as well as a host of other great tunes. Highly underrated, check it out. There’s another recommendation for you.

The Sound of Clouds: wordcloud of tweets using R

Another post using R and looking at Twitter data.

As I was typing out a tweet, I had the feeling that my vocabulary is a bit limited. Papers I tweet about are either “great”, “awesome” or “interesting”. I wondered what my most frequently tweeted words are.

Like the last post you can (probably) do what I’ll describe online somewhere, but why would you want to do that when you can DIY in R?

First, I requested my tweets from Twitter. I wasn’t sure of the limits of rtweet for retrieving tweets and the request only takes a few minutes. This gives you a download of everything including a csv of all your tweets. The text of those tweets is in a column called ‘text’.


## for text mining
## for building a corpus
## for making wordclouds
## read in your tweets
tweets <- read.csv('tweets.csv', stringsAsFactors = FALSE)
## make a corpus of the text of the tweets
tCorpus <- Corpus(VectorSource(tweets$text))
## remove all the punctation from tweets
tCorpus <- tm_map(tCorpus, removePunctuation)
## good idea to remove stopwords: high frequency words such as I, me and so on
tCorpus <- tm_map(tCorpus, removeWords, stopwords('english'))
## next step is to stem the words. Means that talking and talked become talk
tCorpus <- tm_map(tCorpus, stemDocument)
## now display your wordcloud
wordcloud(tCorpus, max.words = 100, random.order = FALSE)

For my @clathrin account this gave:


So my most tweeted word is paper, followed by cell and lab. I’m quite happy about that. I noticed that great is also high frequency, which I had a feeling would also be the case. It looks like @christlet, @davidsbristol, @jwoodgett and @cshperspectives are among my frequent twitterings, this is probably a function of the length of time we’ve been using twitter. The cloud was generated using 10.9K tweets over seven years, it might be interesting to look at any changes over this time…

The cloud is a bit rough and ready. Further filtering would be a good idea, but this quick exercise just took a few minutes.

The post title comes from “The Sound of Clouds” by The Posies from their Solid States LP.

I’m not following you: Twitter data and R

I wondered how many of the people that I follow on Twitter do not follow me back. A quick way to look at this is with R. OK, a really quick way is to give a 3rd party application access rights to your account to do this for you, but a) that isn’t safe, b) you can’t look at anyone else’s data, and c) this is quantixed – doing nerdy stuff like this is what I do. Now, the great thing about R is the availability of well-written packages to do useful stuff. I quickly found two packages twitteR and rtweet that are designed to harvest Twitter data. I went with rtweet and there were some great guides to setting up OAuth and getting going.

The code below set up my environment and pulled down lists of my followers and my “friends”. I’m looking at my main account and not the quantixed twitter account.

## setup your appname,api key and api secret
appname <- "whatever_name"
key <- "blah614h"
secret <- "blah614h"
## create token named "twitter_token"
twitter_token <- create_token(
app = appname,
consumer_key = key,
consumer_secret = secret)

clathrin_followers <- get_followers("clathrin", n = "all")
clathrin_followers_names <- lookup_users(clathrin_followers)
clathrin_friends <- get_friends("clathrin")
clathrin_friends_names <- lookup_users(clathrin_friends)

The terminology is that people that follow me are called Followers and people that I follow are called Friends. These are the terms used by Twitter’s API. I have almost 3000 followers and around 1200 friends.

This was a bit strange… I had fewer followers with data than actual followers. Same for friends: missing a few hundred in total. I extracted a list of the Twitter IDs that had no data and tried a few other ways to look them up. All failed. I assume that these are users who have deleted their account (and the Twitter ID stays reserved) or maybe they are suspended for some reason. Very strange.

## noticed something weird
## look at the twitter ids of followers and friends with no data
missing_followers <- setdiff(clathrin_followers$user_id,clathrin_followers_names$user_id)
missing_friends <- setdiff(clathrin_friends$user_id,clathrin_friends_names$user_id)

## find how many real followers/friends are in each set
aub <- union(clathrin_followers_names$user_id,clathrin_friends_names$user_id)
anb <- intersect(clathrin_followers_names$user_id,clathrin_friends_names$user_id)

## make an Euler plot to look at overlap
fit <- euler(c(
"Followers" = nrow(clathrin_followers_names) - length(anb),
"Friends" = nrow(clathrin_friends_names) - length(anb),
"Followers&amp;Friends" = length(anb)))

In the code above, I arranged in sets the “real Twitter users” who follow me or I follow them. There was an overlap of 882 users, leaving 288 Friends who don’t follow me back – boo hoo!

I next wanted to see who these people are, which is pretty straightforward.

## who are the people I follow who don't follow me back
bonly <- setdiff(clathrin_friends_names$user_id,anb)
no_follow_back <- lookup_users(bonly)

Looking at no_follow_back was interesting. There are a bunch of announcement accounts and people with huge follower counts that I wasn’t surprised do not follow me back. There are a few people on the list with whom I have interacted yet they don’t follow me, which is a bit odd. I guess they could have unfollowed me at some point in the past, but my guess is they were never following me in the first place. It used to be the case that you could only see tweets from people you followed, but the boundaries have blurred a lot in recent years. An intermediary only has to retweet something you have written for someone else to see it and you can then interact, without actually following each other. In fact, my own Twitter experience is mainly through lists, rather than my actual timeline. And to look at tweets in a list you don’t need to follow anyone on there. All of this led me to thinking: maybe other people (who follow me) are wondering why I don’t follow them back… I should look at what I am missing out on.

## who are the people who follow me but I don't follow back
aonly <- setdiff(clathrin_followers_names$user_id,anb)
no_friend_back <- lookup_users(aonly)
## save csvs with all user data for unreciprocated follows
write.csv(no_follow_back, file = "nfb.csv")
write.csv(no_friend_back, file = "nfb2.csv")

With this last bit of code, I was able to save a file for each subset of unreciprocated follows/friends. Again there were some interesting people on this list. I must’ve missed them following me and didn’t follow back.

I used these lists to prune my friends and to follow some interesting new people. The csv files contain the Twitter bio of all the accounts so it’s quick to go through and check who is who and who is worth following. Obviously you can search all of this content for keywords and things you are interested in.

So there you have it. This is my first “all R” post on quantixed – hope you liked it!

The post title is from “I’m Not Following You” the final track from the 1997 LP of the same name from Edwyn Collins.

Realm of Chaos

Caution: this post is for nerds only.

I watched this numberphile video last night and was fascinated by the point pattern that was created in it. I thought I would quickly program my own version to recreate it and then look at patterns made by more points.

I didn’t realise until afterwards that there is actually a web version of the program used in the video here. It is a bit limited though so my code was still worthwhile.

A fractal triangular pattern can be created by:

  1. Setting three points
  2. Picking a randomly placed seed point
  3. Rolling a die and going halfway towards the result
  4. Repeat last step

If the first three points are randomly placed the pattern is skewed, so I added the ability to generate an equilateral triangle. Here is the result.

and here are the results of a triangle through to a decagon.

All of these are generated with one million points using alpha=0.25. The triangle, pentagon and hexagon make nice patterns but the square and polygons with more than six points make pretty uninteresting patterns.

Watching the creation of the point pattern from a triangular set is quite fun. This is 30000 points with a frame every 10 points.

Here is the code.

Some other notes: this version runs in IgorPro. In my version, the seed is set at the centre of the image rather than a random location. I used the random allocation of points rather than a six-sided dice.

The post title is taken from the title track from Bolt Thrower’s “Realm of Chaos”.

Bateman Writes: 1994

BBC 6Music recently went back in time to 1994. This made me wonder what albums released that year were my favourites. As previously described on this blog, I have this information readily available. So I quickly crunched the numbers. I focused on full-length albums and, using play density (sum of all plays divided by number of album tracks) as a metric, I plotted out the Top 20.




There you have it. Scorn’s epic Evanescence has the highest play density of any album released in 1994 in my iTunes library. By some distance. If you haven’t heard it, this is an amazing record that broke new ground and spawned numerous musical genres. I think that record, One Last Laugh In A Place of Dying… and Ro Sham Bo would all be high on my all-time favourite list. A good year for music then as far as I’m concerned.

Other observations: I was amazed that Definitely Maybe was up there, since I am not a big fan of Oasis. Likewise for Dummy by Portishead. Note that Oxford’s Angels and Superdeformed[…] are bootleg records.

Bubbling under: this was the top 20, but there were some great records bubbling under in the 20s and 30s. Here are the best 5.

  • Heatmiser – Cop and Speeder
  • Circle – Meronia
  • Credit to the Nation – Take Dis
  • Kyuss – Welcome to Sky Valley
  • Drive Like Jehu – Yank Crime

I heard tracks from some of these bands on 6Music, but many were missing. Maybe there is something for you to investigate.

Part of a series obsessively looking at music in an obsessive manner.

Elevation: accuracy of a Garmin Edge 800 GPS device

I use a Garmin 800 GPS device to log my cycling activity. including my commutes. Since I have now built up nearly 4 years of cycling the same route, I had a good dataset to look at how accurate the device is.

I wrote some code to import all of the rides tagged with commute in rubiTrack 4 Pro (technical details are below). These tracks needed categorising so that they could be compared. Then I plotted them out as a gizmo in Igor Pro and compared them to a reference data set which I obtained via GPS Visualiser.


The reference dataset is black. Showing the “true” elevation at those particular latitude and longitude coordinates. Plotted on to that are the commute tracks coloured red-white-blue according to longitude. You can see that there are a range of elevations recorded by the device, apart from a few outliers they are mostly accurate but offset. This is strange because I have the elevation of the start and end points saved in the device and I thought it changed the altitude it was measuring to these elevation positions when recording the track, obviously not.

abcTo look at the error in the device I plotted out the difference in the measured altitude at a given location versus the true elevation. For each route (to and from work) a histogram of elevation differences is shown to the right. The average difference is 8 m for the commute in and 4 m for the commute back. This is quite a lot considering that all of this is only ~100 m above sea level. The standard deviation is 43 m for the commute in and 26 m for the way back.


This post at VeloViewer comparing GPS data on Strava from pro-cyclists riding the St15 of 2015 Giro d’Italia sprang to mind. Some GPS devices performed OK, whereas others (including Garmin) did less well. The idea in that post is that rain affects the recording of some units. This could be true and although I live in a rainy country, I doubt it can account for the inaccuracies recorded here. Bear in mind that that stage was over some big changes in altitude and my recordings, very little. On the other hand, there are very few tracks in that post whereas there is lots of data here.

startmidIt’s interesting that the data is worse going in to work than coming back. I do set off quite early in the morning and it is colder etc first thing which might mean the unit doesn’t behave as well for the commute to work. Both to and from work tracks vary most in lat/lon recordings at the start of the track which suggests that the unit is slow to get an exact location – something every Garmin user can attest to. Although I always wait until it has a fix before setting off. The final two plots show what the beginning of the return from work looks like for location accuracy (travelling east to west) compared to a midway section of the same commute (right). This might mean the the inaccuracy at the start determines how inaccurate the track is. As I mentioned, the elevation is set for start and end points. Perhaps if the lat/lon is too far from the endpoint it fails to collect the correct elevation.


I’m disappointed with the accuracy of the device. However, I have no idea whether other GPS units (including phones) would outperform the Garmin Edge 800 or even if later Garmin models are better. This is a good but limited dataset. A similar analysis would be possible on a huge dataset (e.g. all strava data) which would reveal the best and worst GPS devices and/or the best conditions for recording the most accurate data.

Technical details

I described how to get GPX tracks from rubiTrack 4 Pro into Igor and how to crunch them in a previous post. I modified the code to get elevation data out from the cycling tracks and generally made the code slightly more robust. This left me with 1,200 tracks. My commutes are varied. I frequently go from A to C via B and from C to A via D which is a loop (this is what is shown here). But I also go A to C via D, C to A via B and then I also often extend the commute to include 30 km of Warwickshire countryside. The tracks could be categorized by testing whether they began at A or C (this rejected some partial routes) and then testing whether they passed through B or D. These could then be plotted and checked visually for any routes which went off course, there were none. The key here is to pick the right B and D points. To calculate the differences in elevation, the simplest thing was to get GPS Visualiser to tell me what the elevation should be for all the points I had. I was surprised that the API could do half a million points without complaining. This was sufficient to do the rest. Note that the comparisons needed to be done as lat/lon versus elevation because due to differences in speed, time or trackpoint number lead to inherent differences in lat/lon (and elevation). Note also due to the small scale I didn’t bother converting lat/lon into flat earth kilometres.

The post title comes from “Elevation” by Television, which can be found on the classic “Marquee Moon” LP.

Colours Running Out: Analysis of 2016 running

Towards the end of 2015, I started distance running. I thought it’d be fun to look at the frequency of my runs over the course of 2016.

Most of my runs were recorded with a GPS watch. I log my cycling data using Rubitrack, so I just added my running data to this. This software is great but to do any serious number crunching, other software is needed. Yes, I know that if I used strava I can do lots of things with my data… but I don’t. I also know that there are tools for R to do this, but I wrote something in Igor instead. The GitHub repo is here. There’s a technical description below, as well as some random thoughts on running (and cycling).

The animation shows the tracks I recorded as 2016 rolled by. The routes won’t mean much to you, but I can recognise most of them. You can see how I built up the distance to run a marathon and then how the runs became less frequent through late summer to October. I logged 975 km with probably another 50 km or so not logged.


Technical description

To pull the data out of rubiTrack 4 Pro is actually quite difficult since there is no automated export. An applescript did the job of going through all the run activities and exporting them as gpx. There is an API provided by Garmin to take the data straight from the FIT files recorded by the watch, but everything is saved and tagged in rubiTrack, so gpx is a good starting point. GPX is an xml format which can be read into Igor using XMLutils XOP written by andyfaff. Previously, I’ve used nokogiri for reading XML, but this XOP keeps everything within Igor. This worked OK, but I had some trouble with namespaces which I didn’t resolve properly and what is in the code is a slight hack. I wrote some code which imported all the files and then processed the time frame I wanted to look at. It basically looks at a.m. and p.m. for each day in the timeframe. Igor deals with date/time nicely and so this was quite easy. Two lookups per day were needed because I often went for two runs per day (run commuting). I set the lat/lon at the start of each track as 0,0. I used the new alpha tools in IP7 to fade the tracks so that they decay away over time. They disappear with 1/8 reduction in opacity over a four day period. Igor writes out to mov which worked really nicely, but wordpress can’t host movies, so I added a line to write out TIFFs of each frame of the animation and assembled a nice gif using FIJI.

Getting started with running

Getting into running was almost accidental. I am a committed cyclist and had always been of the opinion: since running doesn’t improve aerobic cycling performance (only cycling does that), any activity other than cycling is a waste of time. However, I realised that finding time for cycling was getting more difficult and also my goal is to keep fit and not to actually be a pro-cyclist, so running had to be worth a try. Roughly speaking, running is about three times more time efficient compared to cycling. One hour of running approximates to three hours of cycling. I thought, I would just try it. Over the winter. No more than that. Of course, I soon got the running bug and ran through most of 2016. Taking part in a few running events (marathon, half marathons, 10K). A quick four notes on my experience.

  1. The key thing to keeping running is staying healthy and uninjured. That means building up distance and frequency of running very slowly. In fact, the limitation to running is the body’s ability to actually do the distance. In cycling this is different, as long as you fuel adequately and you’re reasonably fit, you could cycle all day if you wanted. This not true of running, and so, building up to doing longer distances is essential and the ramp up shouldn’t be rushed. Injuries will cost you lost weeks on a training schedule.
  2. There’s lots of things “people don’t tell you” about running. Blisters and things everyone knows about, but losing a toenail during a 20 km run? Encountering runner’s GI problems? There’s lots of surprises as you start out. Joining a club or reading running forums probably helps (I didn’t bother!). In case you are wondering, the respective answers are getting decent shoes fitted and well, there is no cure.
  3. Going from cycling to running meant going from very little upper body mass to gaining extra muscle. This means gaining weight. This is something of a shock to a cyclist and seems counterintuitive, since more activity should really equate to weight loss. I maintained cycling through the year, but was not expecting a gain of ~3 kilos.
  4. As with any sport, having something to aim for is essential. Training for training’s sake can become pointless, so line up something to shoot for. Sign up for an event or at least have an achievement (distance, average speed) in your mind that you want to achieve.

So there you have it. I’ll probably continue to mix running with cycling in 2017. I’ll probably extend the repo to do more with cycling data if I have the time.

The post title is taken from “Colours Running Out” by TOY from their eponymous LP.

Weak Superhero: how to win and lose at Marvel Top Trumps

Top Trumps is a card game for children. The mind can wander when playing such games with kids… typically, I start thinking: what is the best strategy for this game? But also, as the game drags on: what is the quickest way to lose?

Since Top Trumps is based on numerical values with simple outcomes, it seemed straightforward to analyse the cards and to simulate different scenarios to look at these questions.

PackMany Top Trumps variants exist, but the pack I’ll focus on is Marvel Universe “Who’s Your Hero?” made by Winning Moves (cat. No.: 3399736). Note though that the approach can probably be adapted to handle any other Top Trumps set.

There are 30 cards featuring Marvel characters. Each card has six categories:

  1. Strength
  2. Skill
  3. Size
  4. Wisecracks
  5. Mystique
  6. Top Trumps Rating.

What is the best card and which one is the worst?

VictoriesIn order to determine this I pulled in all the data and compared each value to every other card’s value, and repeated this per category (code is here, the data are here). The scaling is different between category, but that’s OK, because the game only uses within field comparisons. This technique allowed me to add up how many cards have a lower value for a certain field for a given card, i.e. how many cards would that card beat. These victories could then be summed across all six fields to determine the “winningest card”.

The cumulative victories can be used to rank the cards and a category plot illustrates how “winningness” is distributed throughout the deck.

As an aside: looking at the way the scores for each category are distributed is interesting too. Understanding these distributions and the way that each are scaled gives a better feel for whether a score of say 2 in Wisecracks is any good (it is).

Wasp SMvIMThe best card in the deck is Iron Man. What is interesting is that Spider-Man has the designation Top Trump (see card), but he’s actually second in terms of wins over all other cards. Head-to-head, Spider-Man beats Iron Man in Skill and Mystique. They draw on Top Trumps Rating. But Iron Man beats Spider-Man on the three remaining fields. So if Iron Man comes up in your hand, you are most likely to defeat your opponent.

At the other end of the “winningest card” plot, the worst card, is Wasp. Followed by Ant Man and Bucky Barnes. There needs to be a terrible card in every Top Trump deck, and Wasp is it. She has pitiful scores in most fields. And can collectively only win 9 out of (6 * 29) = 174 contests. If this card comes up, you are pretty much screwed.

What about draws? VictoriesFSIt’s true that a draw doesn’t mean losing and the active player gets another turn, so a draw does have some value. To make sure I wasn’t overlooking this with my system of counting victories, I recalculated the values using a Football League points system (3 points for a win, 1 point for a draw and 0 for a loss). The result is the same, with only some minor changes in the ranking.

I went with the first evaluation system in order to simulate the games.

I wrote a first version of the code that would printout what was happening so I could check that the simulation ran OK. Once that was done, it was possible to call the function that runs the game, do this multiple (1 x 10^6) times and record who won (player 1 or player 2) and for how many rounds each game lasted.

A typical printout of a game (first 9 rounds) is shown here. So now I could test out different strategies: What is the best way to win and what is the best way to lose?

Strategy 1: pick your best category and play

S_bestIf you knew which category was the most likely to win, you could pick that one and just win every game? Well, not quite. If both players take this strategy, then the player that goes first has a slight advantage and wins 57.8% of the time. The games can go on and on, the longest is over 500 rounds. I timed a few rounds and it worked out around 15 s per round. So the longest game would take just over 2 hours.

Strategy 2: pick one category and stick with it

S_stickThis one requires very little brainpower and suits the disengaged adult: just keep picking the same category. In this scenario, Player 1 just picks strength every time while Player 2 picks their best category. This is a great way to lose. Just 0.02% of games are won using this strategy.

Strategy 3: pick categories at random

S_randomThe next scenario was to just pick random categories. I set up Player 1 to do this and play against Player 2 picking their best category. This means 0.2% of wins for Player 1. The games are over fairly quickly with the longest of 1 x 10^6 games stretching to 200 rounds.

If both players take this strategy, it results in much longer games (almost 2000 rounds for the longest). The player-goes-first advantage disappears and the wins are split 49.9 to 50.1%.

Strategy 4: pick your worst category

S_worstHow does all of this compare with selecting the worst category? To look at this I made Player 2 take this strategy, while Player 1 picked the best category. The result was definitive, it is simply not possible for Player 2 to win. Player 1 wins 100% of all 1 x 10^6 games. The games are over in less than 60 rounds, with most being wrapped up in less than 35 rounds. Of course this would require almost as much knowledge of the deck as the winning strategy, but if you are determined to lose then it is the best strategy.


The hand you’re dealt

Head-to-head, the best strategy is to pick your best category (no surprise there), but whether you win or lose depends on the cards you are dealt. I looked at which player is dealt the worst card Wasp and at the outcome. The split of wins for player 1 (58% of games) are with 54% of those, Player 2 stated with Wasp. Being dealt this card is a disadvantage but it is not the kiss of death. This analysis could be extended to look at the outcome if the n worst cards end up in your hand. I’d predict that this would influence the outcome further than just having Wasp.

So there you have it: every last drop of fun squeezed out of a children’s game by computational analysis. At quantixed, we aim to please.

The post title is taken from “Weak Superhero” by Rocket From The Crypt off their debut LP “Paint As A Fragrance” on Headhunter Records

Pledging My Time II

2016 was the 400 year anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. Stratford-upon-Avon Rotary Club held the Shakespeare Marathon on the same weekend. Runners had an option of half or full marathon. There were apparently 3.5 K runners. Only 700 of whom were doing the full marathon. The chip results were uploaded last night and can be found here. Similar to my post on the Coventry Half Marathon, I thought I’d quickly analyse the data.


rsm16barsThe breakdown of runners by category. M and F are male and female runners under 35 years of age. M35 is 35-45, F55 is 55-65 etc. Only a single runner in the F65 category!

The best time was 02:34:51 by Adam Holland of Notfast. Fastest female runner was 3:14:39 by Josie Hinton of London Heathside.

Congrats to everyone who ran and thanks to the organisers and all the supporters out on the course.

The post title is taken from “Pledging My Time” a track from Blonde on Blonde by Bob Dylan