Saturday, 20 December 2008

keeping up with the latest applications

I've always found it difficult to keep up with the latest computer applications that are taking the world by storm. I don't like to spend all my time trying new things but it's always clear to me that new ideas and new apps so often speed up my work and help me come up with newer faster ways.

I just stumbled across Lifehacker which is a site dedicated to apps which make life easier. I haven't tried the applications yet, well.... some I've already tried so I know their quality, but I'm really impressed with what's on offer and excited to try some of them. Particularly Mojo, Quick Media Converter, AVG Free Antivirus

I also like the site since it gives a simple summary of what's currently being downloaded. From this I found the following apps

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Japan's long life could be linked to large welfare state

I'm just watching the tv programme The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson. A comment he made about the japanese welfare state struck me as interesting because many health experts have us believe that the secret to the amazing health and long life of the japanese people is down to their diet and lifestyle. Not once have I heard that they have a very advanced welfare state that takes care of all their citizens.

Being British I've always been given the impression that the UK has one of the most advanced welfare states yet we have a poor life expectancy and standard of life compared to other nations. Well Niall Ferguson states that Japan in fact have one of the best welfare states in the world. This in fact is becoming one of their biggest problems with it's drain on GDP. But it's not the economic consequence that interests me here. It's the idea that maybe the Japanese are just better supported by their state than other countries. Maybe that's got a big part to play in their amazing longevity and health!!!

Saturday, 13 December 2008

It's official, there is a flying car!!!

I can't believe it. I heard about this hears ago in bbc focus magazine. I hadn't heard about it since so I thought the project had failed. Well... I've just found that the project is alive and well and about to release it's first car. The car is developed by Moller international and the latest version is the m400.

Monday, 8 December 2008

play creativity and flow

Following on from the concept of flow. I then watched another really useful talk on the powerful link between creativity and play. Given that creativity is very much related to flow it becomes clear that when your work feels like play then you'll be the most creative, particulary if you identify a purpose that you really identify with.

The talkcentres around the following principles
You need to develop a relationship of trust to both play and be creative so trust is key.

In terms of a process 3 steps or key elements were explained:
  1. explore: Become knowledgable in the task at hand. explore multiple solutions and combine them to find the best overall solution. go for quantity so you have multiple options and gain lots of experience in the field
  2. build: thinking with your hands. Make prototypes, something you can hold. A toothbrush stuck to a piece of wood so you and others can see and feel it in action and discuss it.
  3. roleplay: act it out. How you gain more empathy for the situation you're designing for and create seamless and authentic experiences.

achieving flow

Since I love sports science, a key aspect is acheiving flow. By that I mean getting to a state where doing what you need to do seems really easy, where you're at your best and most comfortable. I've just watched a very interesting talk from TED titled creativity, fulfilment and flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

local web pages made safe by Google Chrome

I just read the google chrome blog. I know, geeky right, well I 'm always interested to see how companies represent themselves and I am really positively surprised how open the google developers are allowed and encouraged to be. 

Not only are they 'eating their own dog food' as I've heard people put it since they use the google code repository and interface as the project home page. They also use Blogger. I know they probably don't have a choice but atleast they're using the tools of google and showing us how to make good use of them, in theory. 

Any way I just read a post on the blog about the security hazards posed by local web pages. I have to confess I wasn't aware that local pages had elevated security. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Firefox 3 has a relatively good policy towards local pages since that's my main browser at the mo. 

I just got google chrome working on secure pages because I realised that while it seems to use the internet explorer conection details. Because I'm behind a proxy server at work I still needed to check the box that enables all the protocols including secure pages to use the correct url for the proxy server. Once I did that I am surfing https:// pages fine. 

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Simple phone add ons could provide netbook on your phone

Another idea that I would love some one to pursue would bring the netbook functionality to a mobile phone.

Basic idea. I use a netbook eee pc. I'm typing with it right now. I also always have my mobile phone with me. I would love to combine the features of my mobile phone with my netbook. When I thought about it I realised that the netbook just has a bigger screen and keyboard that's about all. sure the procssor, memory and battery are all higher spec but I'm sure these could fit in a mobile it would just cost more. The only issue is the screen and keyboard.

Ok, no it is really obvious when I think about it but, why doesn't someone just create a keyboard and screen like the nertbook has that can connect to a mobile phone. If the screen takkes a bunch more poer then maybe have a separate battery for it. You could have the screen and keyboard connected like a netbook or have them separate. The keyboard could even connect via bltooth I expect the screen couldn't due to the required data rate.

Either way hy don't manufacturers unbundle things like this . I think, particularly for phones you'd then be able to get so much more out of them.

How to get more choice and more revenue from a cinema

I've had this idea for a while now and it just occurred to me put it down in print. It's about how you could both make cinemas far more profitable than they currently are while also providing a lot more choice for the customer while using the space that's currently available.

The idea is becoming cheaper and cheaper to imlement because the prices of hardware are coming right down and the quality is going up rapidly. The basic idea is to convert one or two screens of the average multiplex to a suite of entertainment rooms that can be booked adhoc. These would ebe in effect their own little cinema, fully sound proofed and equpped ith th latest visual and audio kit possibly even gaming and conferencing facilities.

The point being that many screens are not full all the time. I go regulrly to the cinema and oten the screen is just a quarter full. The problem is that cinemas are geared up only to show a fe movies at a time for all sorts of reasons. My loic is that lots of us still want t perience the magic of the big screen but want to be able to choose the film or entertinment we want when we are there. A cinema could set up these smaller rooms with the best equipment and soundproof them such that the quality is ar in excess of anything you could get at home. A bunch oof friends or a couple say, book the room and watch their favourite film in super hd, , with 10:1 surround sound r whatever. Because they paid for the film they can even pasue and rewind if the want. They pay from the time thy etr the room to the time they leave it. Swipe card entyr would account for that.

Secuirty/safety cameras can operate in all rooms to keep the equipment safe. It wuld not b hr to add gming facilities to thi since th screen and sound system is already in plce. A bnch of riends could then book a nights gming. Separate rooms coul be connected through a network or the internet could connect rooms at different cinemas. to share the gaming or filming experience. You could even book conferencing facilities if the demand is there.

There could be a range f rooms provided. One or two large rooms, sy 20 seater, 2 10 sater , 6 4 seaters say.

You fit all this i the sam space as one screen, probably moreyet you'd be able to keep this booked probably 24*7. In the cineworld in milton keynes inf the xscape sayed oopen during the night it would easily attract enough people wanting to go out and have fun like this ith their friends at all hours.

If there is a constant stream of people using the facilities then the food and drink kiosks will also do more trade and enhance profitability.

So thre may be a reduced seatin space for the same cubic footage, theoccupancy rate could be increased significantly ad possible the charge per head.

In terms f the risk of implementing this idea I think that can easily be negated. irst off you could easily test this by convrting your smallest theatre rather than your bigger more profitable one. If that''s still not viable you could simply install oner two rooms where space is available and promote these to peole who are waiting for their film. Get people used to the iea by offering short films or cartoons in a top quality 'ersonalised' cinema experience and introduce them to whats possible. If it doesn't work out you can simply remove th rooms you've mad. If it does you should already have your first couple of rooms sorted.

Any ay it 's just somthing I'd relly like to see happen so I thought I'd put it to paper so to speak.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Social Entrepreneurs Turn Business Sense to Good

Wouldn't it be great to know that there are people out there who are very successful at what they do and aren't completely focused on profits. People who use their skills to harness the latest technology or thinking to fashion new ways of solving problems without charging the earth.

Well I stumbled across a fascinating article about people who do just that and I wanted to record it here for reference. Social Entrepreneurs Turn Business Sense to Good

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Rename sports science to Human Performance for a wider audience

I love sports science and physical education. I have a degree and A level in it and enjoyed every minute. I wish though that the discipline would receive more respect than it currently does. In societies focus on material wealth the title of sports or physical makes people think that all you do is run around all day and blow a whistle to stop play.

This is a massive understatement. In my view the things you learn and the experience you gain through a sports or physical education course can help you in all aspects of your life. In truth I feel the title and in effect the branding of these courses should change to reflect the real focus they have. Renaming them would make it much clearer what thy have to offer and why they are so important.

So what would I rename them to? The courses the I have taken, in essence, were all about maximising human performance. The sports science aspects are about the study of human performance and excellence and what factors help us achieve our limits and how to extend these limits. The physical education aspects are about how to teach others to achieve their dreams, i essence it's about how to teach others the skills to achieve excellence in their chosen discipline.

It's all about covering all aspects of the study of a human, from how they think, work, operate in groups to the physics of movement, how to operate in exxtreme conditions, how to deal with stress and anxiety, how to perform under pressure and how to learn things really quickly. Notice how I haven't mentioned sport once. That's because after my degree I went into the corporate world yet I've used my sports science and PE degree almost every day. I don't really tell anyone I have one because it isn't a respected disciple because it has sports in the title. However all the topics and scenarios e covered during my degree and a levels have prepared me better for the roles I have undertaken than the degrees that some of my friends have taken.

That's not to say other degrees aren't useful or worth doing but I do find they are very specific in their purpose and the application of what you learn is very specific to the discipline you study. That's mainly because a lot of degree cover just one , perhaps two disciplines. Accounting and Psychology are two examples.

The sports science and physical education course have to cover social, psychological, biological, chemical, physical, historical disciplines among other things. It's precisely because they cover such a broad spectrum that their lessons are so relevant in most any role you take, not just at work but in life in general.

I accounting you learn abut numbers and money. You'll learn other things but your main focus is ho to maximise money for yourself or others. That's very useful but it doesn't teach you much else about the world. You learn little if anything about interacting with others, how t motivate them, how to teach them what you know. you also learn little about yourself, you don't learn how to learn new things for yourself or get the best out of what you know. You just learn t make money for yourself and other people.

In psychology you learn different things but it's still very limited.You learn how a humans mind works. You can apply this knowledge to yourself or to others. So it has applications in work but also outside in your personal life. You learn a little about how humans interact and a little about how they work underneath but in reality most of your focus is on how the brain acts, not so much the underlying physics, chemistry and biology that goes behind creating the the actions and thought in the first place. At least that was my experience during the A level I took in psychology and that's what both my sister and wife found in their degrees. They loved what they learnt and really enjoyed the course but I still prefer the degree I took because I feel it has much more practical value because I've covered much of what they have, in much less detail of course, and so much more.

Ok so what exactly did I cover and why is it so damn useful then?
Well, I'd better give you the title of the course. 'Physical Education, Sports Science and Recreation Management' . So not only did I cover a lot of human performance I also covered management of business as well. I loved this aspect of the course because the concept of managing, particularly managing humans, is in essence about putting everything you learn about maximising human performance into practice.

Here's a list of modules the course included and how it's been useful to me
Sports Psychology
Sports Sociology
History of Sports
Anatomy and Physiology
Physiology of maximum intensity exercise
Sports Nutrition
Exercise and Health
Research Methods and statistics

Fundamentals of strategic management
Financial Management
Human resource management
Accounting and Finance
The law
Policy Making

OK, I haven't got round to explaining why each module has been so useful because I need to pop out. Hopefully I'll finish this later. What you should see is that I got a taster for so many areas that are disciplines in themselves. Because I was given a basic knowledge of each area I've been able to build on this throughout my career. Without this basic knowledge I may not even have started learning much about it as a discipline at all.

I've simply found that no matter what I do, even writing this article, there are lessons and theory I can draw from that I learnt during my degree or the A level ad related courses prior to or after it that ere all related to the same theme.

Ok, maybe times and attitudes are a changing regards sports science but then I completed my degree in 1999 when there weren't many sports science courses around. Now there are hundreds and the whole area does seem to have risen from the depths. I still feel that everything we learn and everything it teaches is applicable in more than just the sports arena and it's true value is hidden by this specific title.

Monday, 17 November 2008

The coming wireless revolution

I've just been forwarded a link to a fascinating article explaining the American Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decision to allow gadgets that operate over television frequencies, which could open up the airwaves for wireless internet for the masses without all the gadgetry we currently need.

Internet signals would run through the airwaves using the frquency currently used by television. It supports sending more information per second and is just what mobile broadband has been crying out for.

The decision hasn't yet been made in the UK but if it works in the US then hopefully we'll follow suit.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Centre of the Cel

I heard about a great site today that focuses on things at the cellular level. It's called centreofthecell. It has great interactive games which are, I think, a great way to learn about how cells work and what makes them up.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

It's all been said before

I just read a fascinating article over at rosstraining showing that what we see today in terms of health and how it can be affected so positively with regular activity, was just as relevant 100 years ago as it is today. It links to a fascinating book which could almost have been written today and is full of insights. Just thought I'd make a pointer to it here as it's definitely worth a read.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Copying Silicon Valleys Model

I didn't realise it but apparently I follow silicon valleys model of success . Apparently the model they use is about embracing failure as a part of learning. By accepting this they see ech failure as the next step to success.

Don't see the point in worrying too much about my failures. They're a part of life. It's best to find out what mistakes you made and learn not to make them again. As a developer I just build tools to help me speed up the process of learning from my mistakes.

See what you can learn from this fascinating insight into the silicon valley way where the biggest successes are often bred from failures.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Nutrient families

One thing I'd really like to see in terms of educating children about vitamins, minerals and the like is to have a kid centred approach where the nutrients bccome part of a family and have their own attributes.

Something like the transformers and power rangers an so many other shows. The main characters each have their own special abilities which make them important. Kids learn about what each character can do through watching episodes where their skill becomes important.

All the vitamins and minerals are part of a big team. Each has their own specific job but also they can work with other nutrients to get a job done. Many of the vitmains are involved in the healing or maintenance process. So these characters would help keep the team fit and healthy.

Vitamin K has a spcecific role in blood clotting so it's part of a fst response unit.

Several f the B vitamins are involved in the producing energy from food (the krebs cycle) so I'd expect these characters to be really fit and contribute to energy suppply of the group. Maybe the y make the food. Maybe the burn coal or someting. It depends on the story you puut the teams in and the backstory you give them.

I just feel this approach, though difficult (how do you make vitamin k look cool when it's produced in the colon), would make nutrients accessible to kids and help them unerstand their wider role in everything. If you get the charracter names right it'll also make it much easier for kids to remember each individual nutrient and then also their attributes.

It's something I'd really like to see. If someone has already done it then I'd love t know about it. Otherwise I'd love some one to do it and then tell me about it. I feel as long as the info is presented correctly and made accessible then all this nutrition stuff actually bcomes very easy to understand and we'll all be fitter and healthier as a result.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

How do you manage your energy stores?

This is just a quick thought building on some of my previous posts. A big problem with Type 2 Diabetes is a person ability to manage the sugar they eat. Their insulin response is far too high because their body no longer responds to normal amounts so it has to over compensate.

Exercise has been shown to help with this. Great, but can you do anything about it without exercise. I'm wondering about it, particularly after reading a little about intermittent fasting. I don't know if all the claims are true but when I step back and just consider what I said at the start of this article, one thing becomes clear.

Wouldn't it be useful if you could train your body back into responding to insulin in a normal way. By just fasting every so often you force your body to make do with what energy sources it has. It puts a strain on your body. If you just skip one meal and make up for it when you do eat then you're not really going to have any problems long term. But it says to your body that it shouldn't be wasteful.

That's often how I look at it. Exercise helps because it creates a huge demand for all types of energy so the body has to figure out how to keep all the organs happy rather than just the brain and stomach and a few others. This pressure forces it to be efficient and not be wasteful and so conserve rare resources like carbohydrate and use richer energy sources like fat.

By this logic a fast can do the same thing in theory. Anyway I'm trying it out. Nothing drastic. every meal I skip I make up for it later as I get an excuse to pig out. I'm also ensuring I eat nutrient rich stuff regularly.

Just thought I'd provide an update on what I'm looking at.

Friday, 3 October 2008

GetThings Done: Always have a safe backup

In most projects I've ever done time has always been an issue. The pressure is always on to 'Just get it done' and the temptation is there to rush off and get as much done quickly as soon as possible. I've talked elsewhere about the need for good planning. I haven't talked much though about the need for delivering regularly, little and often, rather than developing lots of things and delivery it all in a big release.

This analogy just came to me about why it's always important to deliver a working solution regularly rather than just keep developing with out delivering for a long time.

The analogy is about climbing a cliff face. Now to be fair I'm not a climber so I may not be completely accurate but the concept should hopefully be clear.

I start by introducing two teams of four climbers each, Team A the 'rushers' and Team B the 'plodders'. We'll see how the names pan out. Now the challenge is just to climb a cliff face. It's in the middle of nowhere and subject to all sorts of weather. By all accounts its pretty precarious. Both teams are of about the same skill level and have the same types of equipment and knowledge of the cliff.

Team A are full of people who just want to get to the top and don't see the need for building base camps and putting in pegs to secure themselves at regular intervals. They just focus on getting to the top and only take enough rations and equipment to get them there. They just set off and start climbing.

Team B are a bit more methodical, they check they've got the right equipment and spares and make sure it all works. Then set off an hour after team B. Team B also build a base camp every hundred or so metres which take anything from 20 minutes to an hour and plan to rest half way to keep their strength up.

Team A obviously race away and get half way up the cliff in just a few hours. They've had a few mistakes and picked up a few minor injuries but they're doing well.

At the same time Team B are only a quarter of the way up. They're well rested and in good spirits. They've already got a few sets of pegs hammered in place should they fall.

Anyway the challenge carries on, Team A race ahead with Team B moving slowly up the mountain all the while losing ground. Very quickly though the weather goes very bad. Visibility is just a few metres and the cliff face is becoming treacherous with the wind and rain lashing down on it.

Team A are just half an hour from the top so they decide to press on. They don't have enough equipment to wait around in the first place. Once they reach the top they'll be fine and the weather looks like it'll get worse. Team B think sod it and just setup a camp just over half way up to wait it out.

The weather just keeps getting worse but Team A haven't setup camp. They now find it really difficult with every inch they climb. Soon enough on of the slips. They're all attached to each other so the faller is caught but the fall badly damages the hands of both the faller and his teammate just behind who took the brunt of supporting him. Now they'll find it really difficult to carry on. They've got no choice though so they have to press on. They get within siteof the summit and suddenly another of their team falls. This time it's more serious, with their injuries and tiredness they're finding it difficult to hold on and another falls at the same time. They can't hold their team members up for long.

The story for Team A is now dependent on their luck and team B. I could just say Team A fall to their deaths but then that's pretty harsh and I'm not writing a horror here. I picked this scenario because the projects I've been involved in often feel like we're climbing a cliff face. I've taken the approach of Team A and I've seen many others do the same. I've found so many times that within site of the end point all manor of things come out of the wood work and stop me every getting to the end. That's what the weather represents.

Team B's story is that they completed the climb later that day in about the time they'd predicted. They took twice as long to reach the same point as Team A but then without the weather they'd have got there sooner. They rescued Team A who had managed to hang on for the several hours it took for Team B to arrive. Team B were able to give Team A food and water and some first aid since they had extra provisions. Both Teams reach to the top together. Team B enjoyed the climb had just a few cuts and bruises and plenty of energy left. They went on to climb the rest of the mountain over the next few days. Team A were tired, hungry and couldn't carry on any further.

It's a harsh story but I've tried to show how proper planning and a methodical approach to the boring things such as security and safety ensured that Team B got where they were going on time and could carry on. Team A just rushed and paid scant attention to basic safety precautions and ended up putting themselves in danger and didn't finish any of the tasks they'd set for themselves.

So while this climb was fictional, the projects I've worked on aren't. I don't always aim to deliver sooner than other teams and now you might understand a little why. I aim to get where I said I be when I said I'd be there and then to be ready to build on what I've achieved

Monday, 22 September 2008

Maintain your strengths to live long and prosper

Ok, anyone who reads my blog knows that I have a load of theories and ideas. Well here's another one to try out and see if it floats or sinks.

I've mentioned before in the article 'What makes us kick the bucket' that it's possible that our bodies simply keep going until something happens that interrupts the normal processes of life and the body simply cannot carry on. Something like a blood vessel supplying the heart or brain, something like that.

I've also talked about the way fitness of mind and body is very much a 'use it or lose' scenario. There's nothing in our genes that robs us of fitness and health as we age. Our limits aren't as high, that's been shown, but we're talking the difference between running a marathon in 2 hours when you're young and maybe 2:30 or 3 hours when you're older, the message being you can still run a marathon. If you can run a marathon you can do pretty much anything else. Everything confirms that if you stimulate your body and keep pushing it regularly it will respond and stay strong and healthy.

So why is it that when we get old so few of us are able to run or swim or dance that much? What generally happens is that life gets in the way and we find it harder and harder to fit in those things that kept us fit when we were kids. Playing around. Walking to school. Playing tag. Ok we're adults and we don't do those things but there are adult equivalents. We just have so much responsibility and so many other things open to us and expected of us that we don't worry about keeping active.

Also it's down to general attitudes. When we're young our bodies take care of themselves. We don't do anything to help them. When we get older our bodies are designed to need more maintenance but we're not used to thinking about this, we generally still assume that

  • a) people get unfit when they get old any way, 
  • b) there's nothing we can do about it 
  • and c) it's not going to make a difference right away

The body is constantly dealing with situations that aren't supposed to happen. From illness, to accidents (broken bones etc), to internal problems such as blood clots floating around the body and threatening to get lodged somewhere. This kind of stuff is happening all the time. Probably not every day but on a yearly or monthly basis your body is managing a whole bunch of dangerous situations, often without you even being aware. Diabetes type 2 and strokes are conditions that arise from an underlying set of problems. That show how serious things can become when your body is unable to deal with basic functionality of certain organs.

So your body is constantly working to keep things functioning well and adapts to constant stressors. The thing is that as the years go by our bodies need more attention and maintenance but our lifestyles normally emphasis less and less focus on maintaining ourselves, we focus on our kids, our parents, our mortgages and jobs. Our bodies come last. Since we don't maintain them well they gradually lose their ability to deal with these daily and monthly stresses.

In other words many organs are no longer well maintained or fit for purpose. In turn because our bodies aren't functioning so well we don't feel as fit and healthy as we did in our youth. Because this is happening to most people our age we assume it's normal and part of life. We get resigned to it.

As this progresses the point at which your body or a particular organ is unable to overcome one of these stresses or problems gets closer. So our limits are getting reduced and our ability to overcome problems is lower. Eventually something gives and we suffer a stroke or heart attack or develop other problems and this is the beginning of the end. Pretty morbid stuff but that's what happens.

Anyway, to lighten the atmosphere. What can we do about it?
Yep you've guessed it, move!!!! really, you mean it's that simple? Well yes and no.

I don't believe in taking pills or quick fixes because our bodies are extremely complex. It's very unlikely one pill can fix all the problems in exactly the right way. I believe in evolution and that we have evolved with basic solutions that are adapted to our needs. We're still hunter gatherers by design. We just don't hunt or gather, we surf and greet the mail man to get stuff and we microware and serve to feed ourselves. It's so much easier these days.

So the biggest change in western lifestyles in the last century is not our intake it's our outgoings. We just move less. We burn less calories and, more importantly our bodies are built to use the natural motion of our daily lives to help get things done.

Why do we cool down after exercise. If we stopped moving straight away then our blood would pool in the muscles. Particularly the lower legs due to gravity. All that blood with waste products from our day needs to get to organs like the liver to be cleaned. To focus on the lower leg for a second the act of walking naturally squeezes the veins running through it and helps pump blood back to the heart and to where it can be cleaned.

In terms of digestion, we do have muscles that move food around our gut in a motion called 'peristalsis' but we benefit a great dealing from natural movement to help the process along. These are just a couple of examples of how a little movement helps the whole of our body and is part of what our bodies expect on a regular basis.

I recommend moving simply because it's natural and available to all of us. It can be free and when done with a little common sense, fits in with the way our bodies are designed to work, not against them. There aren't a huge list of side effects associated with it when do correctly and in balance with our lives.

What kind of movement?
I mean mental, physical and emotional. You can exercise your mind and emotions just like you can your body. I'm not as familiar with the mental and emotional side but I'm going to look into it.

You need intense movement to keep your limits high and develop your ability to deal with stress , you also need medium and low intensity movement so you can just enjoy moving for its own sake. Things like walking just chill you out and provide a nice way of getting from A to B.

I'm going to wrap up now because I feel I've had a decent rant and I feel a natural ending coming up. I hope I've made this idea clear to you. That our bodies don't have a time limit specifically stamped on them. The limit may depend on their ability to get through each day. If we don't maintain them just like we do our treasured cars and houses, then they too succumb to pressures and crumble. With care and maintenance they'll last for years and years.

I feel this puts things into perspective and fits in with what I see around me and what I learn, but is that the same for you?

Friday, 19 September 2008

Longevity, Negativity, and Positive Thinking

For this simple guide I was searching for references on stress and how exercise can help with it. I find some great articles but nothing really stood out to me. They either seemed to have too much depth or not enough. I'm thinking of stress because we're all busy. We have more to do than we have time to do it. So it's nice to think a little about how to deal with it all in a way that suits us.

Since I couldn't find anything I wanted to include I tried a different approach. I thought I'd go through sites and blogs I like and see if they've got a relevant article. What I came up with is something I've been looking for, for a while about how to live long and prosper (no it's not a start trek reference, they just got there first). This article looks into the life and times of a 114 year old guy with a 101-year-old brother, two daughters aged 81 and 77, and a nephew aged 85, all of them born and still living in a small town of the island of Menorca.

We get some insights into how they got so healthy at such an age and surprise, surprise, a lack of stress is cited as part of the reason. I'm not presenting these results as conclusive. there's a lot of data and questioning to be done until we get all the answers. I've just always wondered what I'd find out if I talked to a bunch of people who have lived a really long time and are really healthy and this is about the closest I'll get to that.

Added at 21:20
One theory I have that I'm unable to test is that people who keep their abilities and faculties as they age do so because don't believe that getting older means getting slower. I have known guys who are still in their prime at 60 and even 80, by prime I mean running marathons, going on ski-ing holidays, and doing all of it better than those younger than them. They don't do anything to excess but they also don't let their faculties waste away either.

I say this partly because it's very noticeable to me how similar the symptoms of ageing are to the syptoms of neglect both mental and physical. Kids these days are developing diseases more common in the elderly. Is it that they're ageing sooner or are they just showing signs of neglect sooner.

I also say this because it's the only answer that fits all the people I can think of who are fit and active way past any one else.their age. I can also think of the fundamental principle behind exercise which in this case is 'use it or lose it'. Once you start feeling you should slow down and give in to the ageing process by expecting less of yourself then that's eactly what you'll get. All I can see is that hile we're young our bodies don't need much of a push to stay healthy but as we age they need more and more of a push. So if you want to stay fighting fit then you'd better learn to fight.

I also wonder if another key factor is not just being fit through out life but having a high level of fitness. Stress is relative. If you're used to a lot of pressure then yu're preception of stressful times is going to be different to someone who doesn't ge much stimulation often The same goes for your mind and body. If you regularly push them close to their limits even just once a week then they'll maintain their abilities and not get stressed out very easily. If you don't challenge them often then they'll get stressed out much more easily because what was once easy is now near your limits.

As I said I can't prove this, but then again I can't disprove it either. The more I think about it the more it fits with all I know. We'll see won't we

The French Paradox: Having your cake and eating it

I mentioned to a friend recently about the French paradox. That is the idea that some things the French do go counter to current wisdom in health education yet they still have fantastic results in many of the health statistics that we compare nations by.

In the same search I found that in some quarters the 'French Paradox' doesn't hold up, however that appears to be due to alcohol and cigarette use which just shows that when they do copy our bad habits then their health suffers too.

What I'm more interested in is how their lifestyles seem to leave them at far lower risk of heart disease and obesity (source:OECD health data) while being known for some of the best and most indulgent food on the planet.

I don't have all the answers yet. I posted this article as a beginning of this topic so I can add to it as things become apparent.

My understanding is that while the French have a true appreciation of great food and the joys of life they also understand the need for balance and moderation. It's fundamentally more than just diet, it's about the way they live and their approach to living. They don't like to rush around and get things done ASAP as we often do in the UK or US. They prefer to live life first and get things done as a consequence. They like to savour moments as they come along. This means things like having dinner with the family at the table. They may have alcohol but that's because they take their time to eat they don't rush.

I believe they're working culture is more family oriented and less driven on deadlines. I believe that's the kind of lifestyle that helps them have fewer heart disease and obesity problems. They don't eat the high fat food they're known for all the time or in great quantities however they do have a little of what they want and when they do they take the time to enjoy the moment however long it lasts.

I say I believe all this cos that's the point of this article. Over time I want to see if that's actually true or just a myth. It's becoming apparent that while the Japanese were looked upon as a healthy example, over time as they adopt more western lifestyles they are increasing less healthy. Or could it just be down to differences in each countries welfare state? since this should have a big impact on quality and length of life.

So is this happening to France or can we learn from them.

Learn more about preventing obesityinsulin resistanceheart disease and Diabetesdementia and alzheimers and even Cancer through exercise

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Rethinking the Wrinkling: Key Genes Cause Aging

I just came across a fascinating article which implies that ageing could be primarily controlled by our genes. The only thing we can do about it is control how much we eat. That's the initial findings anyway. Whether this pans out we'll see. A good explanation of how this all connects is given.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Can kids teach themselves? Sugata Mitra

Through work I attended a conference last November that reminded me of so many small things we all know when we're at school but we forget about when we become adults and go to work.

What made the conference special was one amazing demonstration given by Sugata Mitra from Newcastle University. He is already well known for his 'hole in the wall' experiments.

He presented on these experiments and I sat dumbfounded. He's a really great presenter and understands how to make things clear, concise and entertaining. The crux of his work is that, as wikipedia notes,

He has convincingly demonstrated that groups of children, irrespective of who or where they are, can learn to use computers and the Internet on their own using public computers in open spaces such as roads and playgrounds

The experiments involve putting a computer in a public space where kids can congregate. Making it a little secure like a cash machine and setting up a hidden video camera to watch what happens. The computer is connected to the web and runs a browser that 's really easy for kids to use.

What happened was that once kids found the computer and realised they could use it. They quickly started exploring. They told friends and quickly there were large groups around. They didin't fight over it as all could see the screen. One kid navigated while the group decided where to go.

This wasn't even what's so amazing. We all know kids like to explore. What was amazing was how much these kids learnt. In one study Sugata Mitra searched for the most remote, least connected part of India, where they don't speak English at all and they have no possible chance of internet connections at home. Not only did the kids figure out how to use the internet really quickly. They even learnt to speak English. All from the web. Sure they spoke with an American accent because they'd learnt from watching American videos but they learnt all the same. Without being able to read or speak English the children taught themselves to both speak and read it. How fascinating.

The learning doesn't end there, Mitra's presentation went on to talk about how these kids, many were only 8 or 9 years old, began to learn about DNA and genetics and were able to understand extremely advanced concepts. All through having the freedom to explore their own interests.

So I log it here simply as a fascinating insight and a reminder that often we judge the limitations of kids given the limitations of our teaching methods and resources. I always remembered from school that the methods used were what limited our knowledge. That's nothing against the teachers or school it's just that our knowledge of effective education and our tools for acheiving these ideals are now advancing far faster than they ever have before.

It also reminded me about concepts such as Vicarious learning (learning through others), how much you can learn in a social environment, the power of giving someone freedom to learn at their pace and through following their own interests, and also the concept that the learning achieved is so dependent on the tools and resources available.

I was always aware of these concepts but I'd kind of forgotten their importance. While I'm learning to be a tennis coach I like to let kids get a feel for the ball and racquet and let their mind and body figure out how to work with each other.

I often felt that the typical approach I was used to, where a long line of kids wait in line to hit one ball at a time was inefficient. You don't get enough time with the ball for you to figure out what to do with it. Thinking of this experiment I'm reminded how important it is to see what other people as well doing something yourself. If someone hits the ball really well you get to see why, if they hit it badly you also see it. You may not realise why but a good teacher will point this out. Often though you can figure it out for yourself. You naturally copy the good kid and avoid what the bad kid is doing. Social pressure often encourages most kids to be 'good enough' and so they all pay at least a little attention and they all learn from each other.

Related Articles

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Constant stress and weight problems?

I do wonder whether constant stress and weight problems are related. Basically is it possible that constant stress may lower your metabolism and make you prone to adding weight? I've met many a person that doesn't really eat too much, in fact they're too busy to eat much at all. Yet they always complain of their waste line expanding. How could that be particularly if they really aren't eating that much.

Well, you've guessed it :-), I've found an excerpt in an article that explains how this could be the case. Hold on to your hats cos it does get a bit techy. I'm logging it hear so that if the idea holds water then I may write a laymans version in time

It's not actually the whole article just a few paragraphs so rather than send you there and tell you to scroll down to some random point I've taken the liberty of pasting it here. Please check out the original article at

One thing I’m wondering about is what actually signals the body to notch down metabolic rate. I have heard people say that it’s the calories ingested, but I suspect it’s not that simple. I wonder if consumption of muscle protein does this for example. Do you know what triggers it?
As discussed in the second post, one of the effects of short-term fasting is a decrease in the thyroid hormone T3. We already know that T3 (and T4 to a lesser degree) is directly responsible for metabolism, so it’s not too hard to deduce what causes the metabolic rate to fall. T3 conversion falls, metabolism falls - simple as that. But why does T3 conversion fall?
Well, for that, we’ll look back up to the previous question and just say one simple word: cortisol. Cortisol blocks the conversion of T4 to active T3, along with promoting the production of a thyroid hormone called “reverse T3″. This mirror image of T3 has an empty iodine receptor; it binds to thyroid receptors in cells, but does not activate them. By binding to these receptor zones, it blocks the action of T3. It’s easy to see why chronic stress, and therefore chronically elevated cortisol levels, helps push one towards obesity. It’s not just the late nights at work with fast food for dinner (though that doesn’t help); the stress is actually causing a chronic depression of the metabolism, along with the immune system as seen above.

Managing Diabetes through Exercise

One thing this blog lacks is simple guides to thing. I often go into depth in areas the average person won't be able to follow. I could write some simple guides myself but plenty of people have already done this and put them on the web. So this is the first article designed purely as an entry into a topic.

Today the topic is diabetes. There is already a lot of advice on how to eat both while living with Diabetes and to reduce your risk of developing diabetes. There is mounting evidence that quality exercise has a big role to play in both preventing diabetes onset and making it uch easier to live with.

The article linked to below gives a short and simple introduction to the topics oftype 2 diabetes(NIDDM), insulin, insulin resistance and exercise

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Training your intake: Intermittent Fasting

I've been reading a little about intermittent fasting from the modern forager site. It's fascinating me. I'm reminded that every so often I actually feel absolutely stuffed but I haven't been over-eating. It often feels like my body just needs a restfrom eating or something which is weird cos I'm kind of an eating machine when I want to be.

Anyway I'm still learning about the concept of intermittent fasting and what really struck me is the idea that its kind of like training your body how do deal with the resources you give it properly. This means learning not to waste the calories and nutrients you give it. I've always felt that humans seem to need so much food compared to what e actually do. We just seem wasteful.

It makes sense to me that with the lives we live these days with abundant food everywhere, regular meals full of quality food. It's funny to say it but this isn't necessarily what nature intended. Sounds crazy doesn't it. ell it's all just speculation at the moment but it opens another interesting door.

When we train our bodies to run marathons all we're doing is telling them that they need to find a way to be a lot more efficient with the energy available for a long time. Our bodies know how to do this, they just need a push. That's where the training comes in. The same goes for getting strong. We lift heavy weights so our bodies know we want them to be strong. So they adjust.partly by adding more muscle fibres but also by making the nerves in the muscles work better so they can all work together.

When it comes to nutrition we generally focus on getting regular meals. Always giving our bodies what we need. This intermittent fasting sounds like a way to train your body to make better use of the resources you give it rather than continually expecting new resources.

A fascinating idea. I'm really interested in how it pans out.

Edit: January 5 2014
5 years later and I used intermittent fasting every so often to reset my metabolism. I find it quite useful. This christmas it was perfect for enjoying the holiday season and restoring balance when needed

Friday, 12 September 2008

Getting healthy shouldn't feel like work

I just had a game of tennis. Chatting with my tennis buddy afterwards we were talking about why we prefer playing tennis or any sport over just going for a run. The main reason for both of us is that sooner or later running, for us, just feels like work.

We're not runners you see. I know I can run 6 or 7 miles relatively comfortably but I just won't enjoy covering that distance half as much as covering the same distance on a tennis court or a football pitch. We also know that we won't put in the same intensity (quality) or effort. In the end your body simply adapts to the demands you place on it so we get a much better workout from a simple game of tennis than we ever do from a run.

The main factor is that we enjoy it. So we want to push ourselves. It takes so much longer on the tennis court for us to feel so tired we need to stop. We've both learnt that once something starts to feel like work then we can't class it as fun and we need to change it. It's also true that I owe so much of my health to tennis because I want to play come rain or shine, in the hot and the cold. it keeps me active in all weathers and no matter what my work load. Without it I'd succumb to stress and I wouldn't want to be active.

So ultimately it's the fun in the activity that keeps me going.

Reliable First and Second Serve

I've always struggled with getting a reliable second serve. I'm one of those guys who can do damage with his serve when it's working but when it's not I double fault regularly. Obviously your serve is only as good as your second serve so I've tried lots of ways to make it solid. In general I find that once I've warmed up properly and played myself in my serve starts to get consistent.

The problem is that in many matches this means I often lose the first couple of service games leaving me at a big disadvantage. Also my serve can just go hay wire for a game and then I lose another. Of course I just need to lose one service game per set to lose it so it's often a problem.

The methods I've tried to make my serve consistent are pretty standard
  • take some pace off
  • don't jump into it
  • focus more on spin
They help a bit more sometims I feel they actually hurt my serve more than help. Primarily because they don't help me develop a rhythmn. Related to some previous posts I feel your body has it's own set routine for all tennis shots. That's what practise is about, instilling that routine. There are things your body finds easier to adapt these routines to than others. The things I've tried often end up changing the timing of things (taking pace off), taking things away (don't jump), or adding something (more spin) to the natural routine. This all ends up as one extra thing to think of. thus I'm thinking more about the technique of serving than I am about beating my opponent and reacting quickly etc.

so my new approach that makes things much simpler is to practise varying the height of my ball toss. My reason being, the bigger the serve the higher the ball toss needs to be, in general. Therefore to make a more reliable serve with less pace with out changing anything about my serve I can just throw it lower or hit it at a lower point, depending on your perpective. The beauty of this is that the timing and routine aspects of the serve will all be the same. I don't have to adjust, add or even remove anything. I just throw the ball up and hit it. I'm free to think about the spin and direction I'm going to apply and once I get comfortable and relaxed I'll begin thinking much more about tactics than about the serve.

The nicest feature is that when I want a bigger serve I just have to get good at placing the ball high enough and forward enough. This does put pressure on my ability to toss the ball accurately but then that's all part of the game.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Making a computer that works like the brain

Oh my god!!!!, This post about an advanced approach to computing just blew me away. It's presented and so well I have faith that the concepts behind it are true. I know much of it is and he inefficiencies of traditional computing have been known for years but no one has presented so well on how our brains achieve more with less. Progress on this would be amazing.

The presenters Kwabena Boahen has done a fantastic job.

Edit: 24/04/2009
I recently found an update to this work entitle googling the brain.  Yet another fascinating update on work that could easily take us into a new era in both computing and our understanding of ourselves

Why we don’t understand as much as we think we do

I tried the ted miro player today and this is the first talk I watched. As usual I was inspired. The concept here is about teaching people properly by getting the message right. As fascinating a talk as it is obvious. the speaker is Johnathan Drori. Watch it then see how it changes your perception.

If the video won't play watch it at ted

Health Science: finding facts from correlations

One thing that does really bug me when science, particularly health science, is reported in the press is that correlations are so often consider evidence of fact. I just read an article titled 'Vitamins in foods may protect brain'. Now I do accept the concept that vitamins are likely to help with brain function but I' object to the way things are presented.

The concept of balance is often ignored. I mean that the ratio of vitamins, minerals and all other chemicals in our bodies is extremely important. It's not sufficient to just raise the level of one vitamin without understanding it's impact on the rest of our bodily processes. For me this approach is far too reductionist. It assumes that changing one chemical will only have positive effects and no negative. That's rarely if ever the case. Take water for example. Our bodies may be over 90% water but it's even possible to die from taking on too much water. This is known as hyponutraemia and the condition is becoming more common in ultra distance sports events because athletes are taking on lots of water but not enough electrolytes and other essential chemicals in order to maintain a balance in the body. The blood then becomes too dilute and problems occur as a result.

I feel the knowledge we have is wonderful but no one has yet bothered to tie this all into a model that helps us make sense of all the interactions. It's almost like too much research is being done with out any end result of general and specific theories being created. I'm really talking about theories that can then be turned into software that can do all the donkey work for us. A suite of applications that we can then use to investigate our bodies in real time using virtual hearts, brains or even bodies. Extremely complex video games already exist that show that we already have the technology and know how to manage the complexity required. I just don't think anyone with power and money has realised it's possible yet and that it would advance our ability to deal with these health issues in staggering ways.

Anyway I sense I am going off on one. Something I did want to point out is that I find it too easy to pick apart many of these studies to find variables they have not controlled for. In plain english I mean that I could use the finding to support a completely different explanation or approach than that given in the study or used by the community.

For me I wonder if the high levels of vitamin B12 simply show the effects of the way of life lead by those studied. Maybe they eat more B12 or maybe their bodies are better at extracting it from their food. Maybe their way of life provides enough stimulus to their bodies to extract the B12 in the first place. None of these answers are ever in the research I read. What do I mean by stimulus? Well, when I learnt about Osteoporosis during my degree. I was fascinated to find that the body can be given plenty of calcium but this wouldn't protect against osteoporosis. Only when enough exercise and the right kind of exercise was taken would the calcium be both absorbed and used to strength bones and reduce or prevent osteoporosis. Exercise was the stimulus. Simply eating enough calcium wasn't enough. so will increasing B12 intake work. Is there any evidence? This isn't made clear in the article.

How do we deal with this then?
I think the body is generally far better at regulating itself than we are at micro managing it. Each time I've tried to intervene in my body I think I've taken 1 step forward and 2 steps back to be honest. It's all a fine balance and only our bodies themselves know for sure what they need. I now believe that we should just focus on getting the resources to our bodies. I mean water, protein, carbs, fat, mineral viatmins all from normal foods sources. I just try to vary what I have froom fresh, frozen and tinned, hot and cold, sweet and savoury etc so that all the positvies and negatives of each balance each other out. As long as there is enough in the melting pot that is my diet I feel my body will take what it needs. As long as I've got enough waste disposal (fibre) material my body can get rid of the waste.

I then live an active, productive and fun life to give my mind a nd body enough stimulus to make the parts of me strong and healthy that I need to live the life I want. Basically, use it or lose it. So all I really have to do is follow the life I WANT to lead. Eat a good balance and variety of foods. Let my body figure it out. that's how we've evolved and how we're designed to live. the funny thing is, the more I read research the more I find it actually supports this simplified view.

Funny that.

Code like a girl

Yep, you've guessed it if you've just read my previous post. I've found a site I like and it's inspired me with a bunch of posts. That's just the way it works with me. this time is a little different... just a little cos I'm not going to talk about health or exercise !!!!. Yeah, you didn't know I had it in me did you ;-).

So what's the inspiration? Well I'm also a coder, as in I wrote software, web software particularly but software all the same. Because I didn't learn this for my degree I've always gone with what I feel is the best approach I can find and just strived for excellence as I feel it should be achieved. Part of that excellence, for me, comes in nicely organised, nice to look at code. not just something that elegant in it's design but elegant in it's presentation aswell.

for me it's because I worked on a side project during lunch hours etc that meant I might not touch it for months at a time. So I'd forget where I was and what I meant when I wrote a chunk of code. So when I got back to it I didn't want to spend hours figuring out what I was supposed to achieve or make an error becuase it wasn't obvious how a change would affect the whole. No, I wanted to see this instantly and with little or no effort. Clean well organised code was a big part of my answer and boy did it make a difference to my productivity and enjoyment. I spent so much more time writing solutions than fixing mistakes.

I think a way to explain this to the lay person is to say that a beautiful idea expressed on paper can still be very difficult to understand. If this idea is portrayed by a wordsmith who writes elegant phrases then all of a sudden the elegance and beauty of the idea is there for all to see and the style of writing or even it's presentation simply draw you in. You go from having to force yourself to understand the concept to being amazed at how easy it is to grasp.

I linked to it becuase it's nice to see other people people making the same point and making it very elegantly.

Fitness Gadgets

Another stroll in the web scape led me to this fascinating page by the guys at creating passionate users. It's all about using the latest technology to get healthier and have fun at the same time. I'm all about that and was glad to find an article with great ideas.

I particularly like the sport brain approach. My wife uses the fitbug pedometer which works ina very similar way and is mentioned in the comments of the article. I'm really impressed with the fitbug and so I'd like to try out the sport brain approach. It's really helpful just to have a record of how active you've been throughout the day.

I had a quick check of the market and found reviews of both fitbug and sportbrain and overall I'm hearing the fitbug (or omron HJ-720 ITC) is the winner, predominantly because it is more accurate. I can't speak for other pedometers but the fitbug seems very acurate and can just be left in your pocket rather than clipped to a belt or anything. It also doesn't use a pendulum to measure steps. My guess is they use an accelerometer but I'm not really bothered I just find it really convenient and accurate which is what counts.

any way I've been meaning to talk about decent pedometers for a while so at least I've finally got round to it. I also seem to have come across a really interesting new blog so I'm quite chuffed.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Comparing Winning Styles of play

Reading reports on the current US open it's fascinating to see how different players handle adversity and achieve their best. I stumbled on an article comparing Jelena Jankovic with Roger Federer as examples of how the number two players in the worlds go about becoming number 1.

I was particularly impressed with the analysis of Federer. I find him really interesting to watch. Given that many are saying that he may be a spent force I find it worth remembering that he's still made two grandslam finals this year. Ok he was completely outplayed at the French but he still made the final which means he can beat everyone except Nadal. Maybe it's just because we're used to supreme dominance and so when the standard drops even a little it's easy to fall off that perch.

It really fascinates me to see if Roger can regain that dominance and to see how he goes about it. Logic would tell me that he should remember what made him great in the first place and go back to that place and above all trust himself. If he's been great for years then you don't just stop being great. That sounds like what he's doing. I hope it carries on and he gets some success with it.

Atleast the fight is now going to be really interesting with Nadal on the scene.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Think clearly: Warm up your brain

Yes I believe you really do need to warm up your brain if you want to get the best out of it.

In the process of writing a previous article about performing well when it counts I hit upon a way of explaining several theories I've yet to put to paper.

Ok the basic concept I have about your brain needing to be warmed upis that as far as I know it's because your brain functions well when blood is supplied to the relevant parts of it that need it. My guess is that until that area is well supplied with blood then it just gets by on the emergency rations stored with the relevant cell or local cells. thus there isn't much energy around and any wast can't be evacuated.

Of course you'll ask where on earth did I think the brain needed to be warmed up. Simple answer: because every time I play tennis I take say 20 minutes for my body to warm up but then I still don't play brilliantly. Then around 10 -20 minutes later I really kick in to gear and I notice it's because my brain is remembering how to deal with the conditions on the court and so it's adjusted it's timing. First off it needed a good blood supply to get the right resources (fuel, water etc) to the cells and then these cells neede dto talk to each other to solve the problem of my timing being off. Thertefore you have a time lag of say 30 minutes. If i played more regularly the time lag would be less but the need to warm up my brain would be the same.

Another way i've noticed this is when I have caffeine or when I'm over stimulated e.g. running on adrenline, I noticed that I'm much more mentally tired by the end of the day than when I have no caffeine or don't run on adrenline. My other posts on sleep and recovery talk about the brains need for rest. My point here is that each brain cell only has so much stored energy. Therefore to function at a high level like when solving a crossword it needs fuel and resources from the blood supply and it needs waste products taken away. Therefore each cell can function without the blood supply but only for a limited period. In a similar way the muscles can funciton without blood supply but they soon tire.

Every training adaptation thathappens in your body when you train for a marathon is designed to save carbohydrate because you cannot burn fat without a carbohydrate flame. If for any reason your muscle cells burn through their stored carbs too early then you won't go as far or run as fast it's as simple as that.

I feel the same happens with the brain. I beleive that caffeine is fantastic for helping you focus but it also gets you to run through your brains local store of carbs quicker than normal and so you feel more tired than usual at the end of the day. an extreme example of this has been made clear to me because I've started to get migraines in recent years. I never used to get headaches at all. So it's easier for me to figure out why I've just started. In every case I can think of it's always come at a time when I'm not sleeping very well for days on end and I have intense mind work to do. When it's lots of physical work I'm doing I don't ge ta migraine but when I have to think really hard and my body isn't reasting so my brain isn't recovering from each day then I eventually get a migraine. Therefore I'm inclined to believe that a migraine, for me at least, may simply be an example of my brain being exhausted and crying out for a rest.

Why would this hurt?
My guess is that the individual cells become inflamed which must put pressure on the intracranial cavities and eventually we feel pain. I don't know if this happens I just know that we can actually feel pain in our brain it's only when it's surrounding tissue gets hurt or pressed in some way that we feel any pain.

Why would we get sick or see colours?
Again if your brain is that tired then who knows what is going wrong with the rest of your body. I suggested in another post that a tired brain could cause problems throughout your body since your brain controls and coordinates a large part of your bodily function. It seems natural to assume that many other parts of your body will go wrong. Including your senses.

Ok I see I've moved away for my original topic. Apologies, I'll have to separate these two later. to summarise what I set out to say is that wihtout warming up your brain I wonder whether each cell or set of cells has only enough resources to function at a high level for a short while and that shortly it becomes full of waste products from the exertion. the only remedy for this is to let it rest for a time until it has recovered. Warming up the brain on the other hand by increasing it's activity in a controolled manner and not allowing either waste to build up or fuel to run out will ensure the brain can run fast for as long as possible.

Perform well where it counts

Have you ever met some one who doesn't look like much but can whoop your arse? You know, that guy with the pot belly, doesn't look like he's exercised since 1965 and you picture him at home with the remote control slowly becoming part of his hand cos he's always watching tv. Yet this guy just has your number when it comes to the sport you love.

Why is that? How could it be?
You train every day, you work harder than every else, yu give everything to every point but when it comes to the crunch you always lose out. does this sound familiar. It does to me. When it comes to sports I'm generally great in practice, poor in competition. Yet academically I'm good at both. I grew up as the kid at the top of the class but not the football pitch. I did ok but when I got nervous, and I often did, I started to over think and play sub par.

Anyway sometimes your weakness can tell you so much about how your body works because in learning how to fix it you learn about yourself. Now, comparing the way I train and compete academically with the way I do it for sports fascinates me because in truth when I'm honest about it I do both differently. It's only recently that I've really realized quite how differently. I've had some idea of this for many years but it's only now that I'm taking the time really meditate on this that it's just now staring me in the face.

Ok, I'll get to the point. When I was young I was used to being tested like we all are and I was used to getting the answer right, but also I wasn't that bothered if I got it wrong. I've never based my self esteem on my knowledge. There are always things that I don't know and that others know better. It's part of learning to make mistakes. Yet in sports if I make a mistake I'm prone to berating myself for the mistake and getting upset. Why?

Anyhow I also noticed that I liked being tested. Now we have a little border collie pup I've realised that I'm just like her in that I need work to do or I get really, really bored. so I actually liked the testing, you know when the teacher just picks anyone for an answer, cos in my head I'd try to find the answer. I wouldn't shout it out and I'd rarely put my hand up I just needed something to do and this was a distraction. What I noticed was that the kinds who usually got the answer right did the same thing, they practiced answering questions even when they weren't being asked. So they embedded the answers and knowledge in their brains. The kids who weere at the bottom of the class didn't practice. There are loads of reasons why but essentially they just didn't put in the ground work. Well in sports I certainly put in the ground work so whydon't I improve my skills as fast as I improved my knowledge.

A couple of articles I've put up recently explain to me something that was just common sense in the class room but I never quite realised in sports:
  1. Regular quality practise is needed to train ourselves to do the right thing at the right time. I learnt to make sure I learnt only the right answers. If I remembered a wrong answer I'd be confused every time I was asked the question. My mind wouldn't know which of two or three answers to give. So I made a huge effort to be right first time. Unlearning a wrong answer is ten times as hard as taking the time to learn the right one.
  2. Fast reactions come with regular quality practice. The more I practised getting an answer, the more my body found ways to get me that answer quickly. I had to find ways to build this practise into my life so it becomes habitual.
Leading on from this I learnt that when uunder pressure I will always revert to what I do naturally. The only way to say complete an exam quickly for me is to trust myself and write down the first answer that comes into my head. No kidding. I've am super quick at exams cos I have learnt to prepare well enough that I just trust myself. If there are lots of questions, as opposed to an essay, then I just go through it pretty darn quick. If I'm certain of the answer I put it down. Then I get to the end often with plenty of time left and now I can leisurely go through the questions that didn't just come to me.

Now I'm relaxed cos I've answered say 70% of the paper and my brain is also warmed up. I find it much easier to answer the remaining 30% because the pressure is off. I'm generally certain I've now passed and that the remaining questions I answer just determine how high the grade is. Sound simple huh. Well for my alevels it pretty much was. I prepared really well and learnt to trust my answers because I tested myself rigorously before I even went into the exam.

After realising this it really becomes plain why I'm not so solid at sports. True, I've known this reason for years but I've always thought that I couldn't get any better until I found the right partner, the right club, the right training protocol blah blah blah. You see I always had excuses. Now by looking at the comparisons and being open about it I'm finding it easier to come up with practical answers that will improve my competitiveness.

Ok back to the overweight guy who whoops my arse. How does he do it? when he trains he trains on quality not quantity. He doesn't blast the ball. He tries to get the right answer for each shot every time without forciing it. time and time again he just practices the right shot and lets his body figure out how to remember it and reproduce it. He doesn't get mad at himself either. He knows some days he'll hit everything right, some he won't but over time if he focuses on quality he'll always improve. And importantly:
  • He only lets his body learn the right answer.
  • He plays against different people regularly to get used to answering the same question in different situations
  • He constantly practises coming up with the right answer
after all this he finds that under pressure, when he needs the big shot he doesn't worry whether it will come. He just trusts his training and more often than not the big shot does come. because he hits most shots well and easily gets the big shots he runs me around. So he doesn't need to be so fit. He can run if he needs to but I don't make him. My shots aren't well groved, under pressure I go for pace and miss so I give lots of cheap points away.

Even writing this article has helped me a little. It just feels even clearer now. I've watched the greats for years:
  • Roger Federrer, Nadal, Sampras, Agassi
  • Stephen Hendry, Ronnie O'Sullivan, Steve Davis
  • Alain Prost, Michael Schumacher, Ayrton Senna
to name just a few. Every single one of them to my mind embody the patient methodical approach when you really analyse their game. It really makes it plain why I was told near the start of my sports science degree why they expected people with great academic ability too. I was told that those who do well at sport often do well academically and vice versa. Since then I've noticed how true that is but now I think I have put it in an article why this might be the case

The good, the bad and the caffeine

Another thing I've noticed a lot these past few months is that my reaction to food depends on how I'm feeling. what's made this clear is my reaction to caffeine. I drink decaf and even then I feel it's effects, from, a raised pulse to heightened attention.

Sometimes just a tiny amount can actually make me feel a little uncomfortable because my mind starts to race and won't relax. Even though I want to chill out it won't let me. Other times the same amount of caffeine seems to have little effect and I associate it with chilling out with a cup of coffee.

So why would this happen. How can I explain the same amount of coffee in exactly the same drink having completely different effects. That's what I've been pondering. My simple answer is that when I'm already stimulated, say I didn't sleep too well and so adrenaline is running round my system keeping my awake I feel the effects of the caffeine more than if I'm really relaxed. Another way to put it is if there isn't much adrenaline running round my body and my body isn't primed to work with it then it a little caffeine has little effect. If however my body is already primed then it may tip me over the edge from being mildly stimulated to I can't even relax kind of stimulated.

Now that I recognise the difference it's made it easier for me to figure out when a little coffee is good and when it's not gonna help me.

Relax your way to health

Okay, now I think it's time to talk about an idea I've been nurturing for a little while. The idea that we as a society don't really know enough about how our minds and bodies recover their strength and possible links this could have to many problems we have in life.

Quite a broad topic isn't it. Well it's really just going to be a little stroll among the ball park that just suggests some ideas I've had for a while that seem to hold up to deeper analysis.

The general idea is that first off our bodies are naturally built to restore themselves. Our mind, body and emotions all go through periods of being used up, worn out or pushed to the limit and we need to give them time to relax and fill up their tanks again. Some of this we readily understand such as how our muscles get stronger, wounds heal and how we need to relax after being stressed.

Okay that's obvious enough. What I wonder though is, what impact does it have on our lives if we don't give sufficient space and time to recovery for each aspect in our daily lives. I'd like to analyse the mind, body and emotions in this article but I'm really interested right now on the mind. The reason being that there isn't so much research, to my knowledge, on the effects of a mind that hasn't been allowed to recover so we don't know much about it's effects. The body we know plenty about and there's lots of info out there. Our emotions could actually also be included in what I'm about to talk about because they also aren't investigated as thoroughly as the body but I'm not so knowledgeable on the topic of emotions so I'll leave that for now.

So what is it I want to say. Well basically it's following on from a previous article on recovery and western illnesses that put forth the idea that many of the physical, mental and emotional problems we face in life may be partly down to a lack of respect for recovery that western society has. We all seem so focused on getting where we're going that we don't like to stop off for a little rest. We treat life as a sprint rather than a marathon, or better yet the tour de france. These guys don't race through the night. They get some kip too and if they dont take care of themselves every day then they won't last long.

Any way I said I wanted to talk about the mind. How could a lack of recovery in the mind have a part to play in developing physical and emotional problems. Well it occurred to me that the mind, particularly the limbic (kind brain) system is the control center for much of the body. I believe even the spinal cord itself may have a part to play in controlling very basic functions of the body. Now there's plenty of evidence that without proper sleep the brain function gets worse and worse and worse. So it's only natural to assume that it's control over the body gets worse and worse and worse. Therefore a brain that is routinely starved of sleep and recovery time will routinely function badly. Sure it will probably learn to adapt to the lack of sleep and find a way to do it's best but there are always limits. Do we really know each persons limits in terms of recovery time through sleep.

Another post on this blog about heart disease and rest talks about the possibility that all the risk factors for coronary heart disease could simply be a reflection that the circulation isn't functioning very well and things like cholesterol are being released to try to fix this. Now I can't prove this is the case but it certainly makes a lot of sense to me to explain it thus.

Someone who is highly stimulated all day because their fight or flight (adrenal) response is always activated, say they drink a lot of caffeine, are always on the go and don't rest untiul they hit the pillow at night. the kind of guys that do this on a regular basis. They're the most likely to have heart problems. Well in this view they brain is not getting enough time to relax. Possibly because the adrenaline is still flowing through their system so the brain can't fully shut down. therefore essential ugrades and maintenance to nervous system infrastructure that supplies the most ipmortant parts of the body will most likely be the upgrades that don't happen cos these can't be shut down. That means over time their functionality drops. So breathing, heart rate, control of blood pressure, flexiblity of artieries and the circulation system as a whole gets worse because the whole of the body is getting worse. Each system that is failing is causing problems in other systems.

To me this is a very simple explanation but it also holds up very well every time I try to tear it apart. It explains to me why as a generation we may not all outlast our parents. It give insight into why cultures that have high risk factors such as the French don't have the high level of disease and death (morbidity and mortality) that countries such as the UK and US do. It may explain partly why cultures that used to follow their own traditional lifestyles but now follow more westernised lifestyles such as Japan are showing more westernised trends of disease and mortality.

So there you go. I hope I haven't babbled on too much. Maybe others have already arrived at this notion. If so I'd love to hear about it. I'd love to find more of the pieces to this puzzle. Maybe in time this idea will fall apart but I really like it right now. What do you think?

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Are you centred?

I just checked out the winning mind site again and found another really fascinating article on the benefits of centring and a simple explanation of how to go about it. Now I'm not saying the idea of centring is new, it isn't. I just like the simple way in which it's explained here and put into a practical sporting context. It made it feel like something I could actually do and made it clear where I would gain from it.

so check out

Recovery of the Fittest

My previous post introduced the concept that our ability to recover from a days stresses may have a tremendous impact on how long we live and the quality of our time on earth.

In this post I want to suggest have a quick look at a notion I have that the fittest athletes around are those who recover fastest. Therefore to become a fit athlete you must address your ability to recover but also that the process of getting fit should also train your body to recover quickly.

So really it's a set of notions that hold each other together. The idea first solidified in my brain while watching the Beijing Olympics last week. I'd forgotten that some many events have many many heats. That's pretty tough if you're a sprinter but I thought it must be absolute murder for the distance athletes. The same goes for the team events where there are several matches on the way to winning a medal. You also have to remember that this is just part of a wider season long period of competition.

Being a tennis fan it was evident how close the games are to the US Open and Wimbledon. Many players seemed tired yet the winner of both the French open and Wimbledon was there looking fresh as a daisy. How can you explain this? My answer, Rafa's style of play is focused on endurance, grit determination etc. Therefore his body has learnt to recover quickly because it's had no choice. He doesn't seem to take much time off but then again he also seems to understand the need for recovery and I believe he plans his recovery as methodically as he does his training.

the riogurs of granslam play or that of the premier league for footballers are such that the ability to recover between games spaced only a day or two apart can easily make the difference between playing well or getting injured. Even if you feel fine, if your body is slowly slipping into disrepair then it will only trake a few games before injury strikes.

So basically if you don't focus on good recovery and adopt a lifestyle that promotes this then you'll find it difficult to be a really top athlete. You can be good but you won't be the best. On the flipside, high quality training will automatically promote your ability to recover so you'll be bakc to your best much sooner than when you were less fit. So it's really about learning when you need rest and when you've had enough.

It really hit home when I heard that Usain Bolt emphasises recovery and relaxation in his schedule. In an interview with the BBC he made it clear that he doesn't like the stress and worry involved when he sees athletes over think. He does his training in the morning and likes to spend the rest of his day doing other things. So he keep up his motivation and keeps his mind clear. When competing he likes to joke around. Only when he is under starters orders does he focus. That way he trains to be ready when necessary, all other times he's always chilled out.