Walking It Back

My last post was surprisingly popular—and not just among people who know me personally. I even managed to pick up a few new followers, who I’m afraid will be put off a bit when they discover travel writing isn’t aligned the usual subjects of this blog (but hopefully not!).

Anyway, as you may or may not recall, the last post incorporated a graph of the distance I’d walked the days before, during, and after various legs of my trip through Italy:

miles walked

In the graph’s caption, I glibly blamed my apparent sedentarism on my office job and commute. I like to think of myself as a decently fit person, you see. Surely, I reasoned, my desk job must be impeding an otherwise active lifestyle. I mean, I have a standing desk—clearly I’m a man who values his physical fitness.

It occurred to my a few days later that my hypothesis was actually pretty testable: if work and commuting were really to blame, my weekends should be significantly more active (measured by distance walked/run) than average. Apple has, for some reason, elected to make exporting health data from iPhones an incredibly difficult process. So, with the zeal of an intern, I manually entered 242 days worth of mileage, attempting to evidence my claim.

Looking back, my naiveté was almost cute. In the era of “binge-watching,” I really believed myself exceptional.

The raw data is pretty depressing. The mean distance walked is 1.54 miles. But the data is right-skewed, meaning outliers on the upper end of the distribution are pulling the mean higher. (The median distance walked over this period is a shockingly low .985 miles.) It’s also telling that the distribution isn’t bimodal, which would indicate two distinct populations—in the case of my hypothesis, weekdays and weekends.

Miles Walked histboxmiles

I could have quit here, but I’ve touched on the importance of publishing negative results before and therefore had a cross to bear. To make the data set more normal, I removed outliers (in this case, all values greater than 3.73 miles) and used a square-root transformation:

Square Root Miles Walked, no outliers

The means of our new, outlier-free population and the “weekend” sample (n=61) are, respectively, 1.023² miles and 1.046² miles, and the population standard deviation is .377² miles. At the 95% confidence level, the sample would have to have a mean of about 1.106² miles to be statistically higher than the average.

It is with great shame that I reject the alternate hypothesis. And I do hereby humbly apologize to office life for blaming it for what is clearly a personal shortcoming.

A few caveats, in case my health insurance provider is reading:

  • I do exercise most days before work. But mostly pull-ups, lunges, and other anaerobic stuff. I only run sporadically—and when I do, I don’t always bring my phone with me.
  • I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the iPhone’s pedometer. Anecdotally, I’ve heard it isn’t great, and light research confirms it has trouble measuring steps under some common conditions, like being held or kept in a backpack.
  • The combination of the above suggests iPhone health data offers a convenient but incomplete metric to assess one’s activity. For example, July 31, a day my phone credits me with walking 4.7 miles, also happens to be a day I went for a 30-mile bike ride.
  • Including Fridays in the “weekend” sample raises the mean distance slightly, to 1.08 miles, but still not enough to achieve statistical significance.
  • Uh, I will try to do better.
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Summer Vacation to Italy

We’re going to try something a little different with today’s post. Instead of a research piece, I’m just going to tell you about my and my girlfriend’s trip to Italy.

This idea was partly born of my growing distaste for social media—the blog post, that is, not the trip to Italy. Standard operating procedure when someone my age takes a trip is to upload photos to Facebook or its increasingly popular appendage, Instagram (filters and ironic captions appreciated but not required). High on endorphins, dehydrated, and possibly a little drunk somewhere in southern Italy, I hatched this quixotic act of rebellion: to post—no, upload—my photos to my own site, thereby subverting one of the day’s most powerful and opaque companies.

It’s stupid, but I’m sticking to it.

It also so happens that a few people have asked me for more detail about the trip than I care to provide in a comment or photo description. I’ll try my best to cover it all without going overboard.

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Our trip began in Rome. We spent three days in the capital doing the obligatory sightseeing: we went to the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, the Roman Forum, the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, the Spanish Steps (twice), the Capuchin Crypt, the Da Vinci Experience, and some lesser attractions.

This involved lots of waiting in line, fending off potential tour guides (both legitimate and otherwise, I suspect), and, above all, walking. All told, we walked almost 25 miles in just over three days.

miles walked
Data courtesy of my iPhone. Sedentarism courtesy of my office job and commute.

That kind of tourism, seeing major attractions and waiting in lines, really isn’t my style. But I have to admit, it was worth it. It really wouldn’t have been right to go to Rome and do otherwise. Plus, I kind of have a thing for architecture.

Volumes have been written about the beauties of ancient Rome, so I won’t wax poetic about the Colosseum or Michaelangelo’s greatest works. I will, however, say that the Capuchin Crypt, intricately decorated with the bones of thousands, including some children, is bananas. You should drop by if you’re in Rome. (They also don’t allow photos, but Megan was able to snag some while the attendant wasn’t looking.)

Beyond visiting the usual tourist attractions, we mostly ate and drank while in Rome. It’s a beautiful, humid city.

The next leg of our trip took us to Puglia. We used Lecce, a city of just under 100,000 people known for its baroque architecture, as a base from which we took day trips to towns on the Pugliese coast.

Instead, we spent our time in the south on the beach. We went to Otranto first, a white city with a beautiful port and precise geometric architecture. We ate raw fish (actually, we did that just about everywhere we went), drank wine, and tempted fate by falling asleep on the beach without sunscreen.

Our next stop took us to Castrignano del Campo, a small town on the very edge of the Italian “heel”. The view of the turquoise Adriatic Sea is the kind of beautiful scene you hope for when you buy a plane ticket. Italians, we noticed, have an interesting take on what constitutes a beach. We followed the crowds to a porous, jagged slab of what I believe was volcanic rock. As I gingerly climbed across the “beach”—on all fours after my flip flops broke—the Italians were pretty much treating it like sand, some laying directly on it. America has made us soft.

Heading north toward Bari, from which we would fly back to Boston, we stopped in Alberobello, a town tucked away in the mountains of Puglia. The town is famous for being full of trulli, medieval stone huts built collapsible and without mortar to aid in tax evasion. (Many of the ones we saw looked pretty permanent, though.)

Aside from Rome, Bari was the second largest city we visited. Unlike the capital, it doesn’t feel touristy—which I don’t mean in a particularly nice way. It was definitely safer and prettier than I was led to believe—neither the internet nor Italians from the region are hold much regard for it—but not quite memorable.

The surrounding town of Polignano a Mare was a different story. Of particular interest to me were the swimming spots, though we regrettably forgot to bring our suits. The town center is a beautiful labyrinth of whitewashed buildings, buzzing with amateur photographers, day-drinkers, and crowded gelato shops.

Oh, and while were there, we ate dinner in a cave. It was a little nicer than it sounds—and yes, that is my (vastly inferior) reprisal of Tom Haverford’s espresso shot.

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Other scattered thoughts from my trip:

  • Language: If you know other Latin languages, which I happen to, Italian is really easy to get a hold of. I decided to learn some a few weeks before we took off, and it was actually pretty helpful, especially in the provincial south where multilingualism is rarer. More important, I think, is that it seemed appreciated by most Italians. For you travelers out there: I highly recommend learning at least the basics before you head somewhere. Counterpoint: if you’re not obviously foreign and get good enough at the beginnings of conversations (which are often rote), people will ask you for directions.
  • Getting away from American media was an unexpected blessing. My job is politics-adjacent, and that I managed to get away during the Manafort convictions is wonderful beyond description. A self-imposed Facebook moratorium, aided by a lack of overseas data, was key to this.
  • Trap music has definitely made it to Italy, as has Brazilian funk, oddly. I was also surprised to see—or hear, I guess—how much Italians seem to like reggaeton.
  • Driving in Italy is a rush. The roads, built centuries ago, are far narrower, and there’s basically no delineation between what areas belong to pedestrians and drivers.
  • Food: super expensive, super good.