Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Can you reverse insulin resistance

Can you reverse insulin resistance has been re-produced at my new blog Cell Your Sole.

I read this article and just had to report the findings of the major study they refer to http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/insulinresistance/#6.

'lifestyle changes reduced the risk of diabetes by 58 percent'
The main recommendation is to be active and eat well.

I just wanted to make the point that insulin resistance can be reversed. They also found that many people with pre-diabtes, symptoms that often lead to diabetes, returned to normal.

Further explanations about why this is the case can be found in the other articles on the GLUT 4 transport chain elsewhere on this blog.

So anyone out there who's worried about or has been told they have or are likely to get diabetes. There are options for you and they don't all involve medicine. Simple approaches like looking at the balance in your life and including activity and adjusting your foods can make a big difference

Mozillas take on offline applications

I'm really impressed with what I discovered while reading this article by a coleague of mine at the OU http://www.greenhughes.com/content/blurring-online-and-offline-worlds-with-mozilla-prism . I found out lots of useful tidbits. One in particular is the idea of mozilla prism. I'm going to be fascinated to see how this develops. In the world of offline applications we've been crying out for a simple solution to provide the web server and db technology in a standard available across all devices and this is a development I wasn't aware of.

Right now since the techonologies involved including google gears and adobe air are young, even in beta, I'm waiting to see which wins the race and how long it takes.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Is Offline Moodle really worth the hassle?

It fascinates me how fast the internet and everything related to it moves. The speed of change is the main factor in why I've pushed for Offline Moodle to be developed and organised the way it has been. In this post I want to talk about the need for Offline Moodle, hopefully I can keep it brief, and encourage discussion on the points I raise. I'm certainly not saying I can read the future and I'm totally open for the idea that I've misunderstood or misread something. I just find it interesting to plan ahead and see if you can be even half right.

So what am I babbling on about?
Well basically many people say that Offline Moodle is going to be obsolete in a short amount of time. They point to the spread of wifi and broadband across the world and the advancing technology that is bridging the previous gaps in supply to remote regions etc. We can also see that mobile devices are really quickly gaining ground on their fixed counterparts and becoming more and more web enabled.

So everyone tells me that within a few years Offline Moodle will be a moot point.

Fair enough I say, I can't argue with all that because it's true. As far as I understand it, while the UK is lagging behind in mobile broadband for various reasons, plenty of other countries are streaming ahead and making sure there is a wifi connection just about everywhere in just a few years time.

The thing is I think this is making Offline Moodle more important not less, and here's why.

At this point the internet as far as I can tell is working much like mainframes used to with big expensive main servers supporting dumb terminals. The web servers and database backends are generally pretty powerful compared to their web browser terminals. That status quo lasted I think for around 20-30 years. My history isn't that great on this point so maybe I'm out by quite a bit. What I do know is that since the introduction of the PC with it's developing power and enhanced features compared to the dumb terminal all we've seen is a massive growth in what is generally done on the client. right now even though networks have improved greatly, few applications run entirely in the mainframe. Most now share much of the processing between the mainframe and the client and some do it entirely on the client.

I can only see that this trend will continue on the web and in fact I see that we're already preparing for this. AJAX and it's ilk started the trend. Google is a prime example of taking this further with their Google Gears technology which now makes the Google Docs suite available offline. It's a no brainer that they've targeted the Web Browser to act just like the OS does for desktop apps and I can imagine other players will join the fray with similar solutions.

So the main overriding reason for needing an Offline Moodle is that as internet technology progresses it's expected that more and more of the 'work' will be done by the client with the web server in the background integrating the work from the client back into the whole.

There are other important reasons for having Offline Moodle since there are groups that will not have unrestricted internet access for many years if ever, these include soldiers, prisoners and other groups working in places where good unrestricted internet connections aren't so easy to come by like those people working on oil rigs or at the bottom of the ocean.

But the hey day of Offline Moodle will, I believe, start once web browsers begin to take on more of the load of delivering the application.

So when it comes to Offline Moodle I see that pretty soon people are going to tire of slow connections and pages loads. They're going to expect much faster and responsive pages that do much more. There is much that can be done from the server and Moodle is working to improve it's load times etc but it won't be enough. More will have to be done on the client.

So why didn't we just implement a Google Gears plugin or something?
A bunch of reasons really, although it would be a fantastic idea. The main reason is that I certainly can't predict which solution is going to take off. All I can see is that it's getting closer and closer to being a reality. some of the reasons were not wanting to dictate to the Moodle technology which technolgoy (Gear, Adobe Air etc) should be used and how it should be done but, to be honest the main reason is that Moodle (along with most apps) wasn't quite ready to support it yet in my view.

I see it as simply a web service that's required no matter which way you look at it. Whether you implement a traditional web service or another approach you're really just trying to hav ea main server on the web and an app that runs on the browser and they need to talk, share and work together happily. This means you need a standard suite of tools to make this happen.
  • Communication: A secure and reliable way of talking to each other
  • Data sharing: a standard way to get data and files in and out
  • Error handling: Things will go wrong so take care of the users and their data
I don't like reinventing the wheel so the first thing to do was look at what was already in place.

For communication we could just use curl but that's inheerently insecure. We're using that for getting the incremental backups off the ground but we need a layer of security and an xml rpc or soap type layer in place to save hassle. Thankfully Moodle Network can provide this. It's young but in time should provide what we need.

Data Sharing was always the big challenge. It would be a big task to write our own solution and backups were already in place and did most of what we needed. The only thing is that offline solutions will put pressure on the networks they use and transporting large files is not a good idea. So we needed to break the files down into smaller chunks. Incremental downloads is part of the solution and is being developed right now. We also want to cherry pick which items should be transferred so the others can be left on the server until required.

Error handling will be addressed as the project goes along. Right now we're just using off the shelf components so that we don't introduce errors due to changes and for ease of upgrade to ensure each component is the latest stable build.

Rather than write our own client app and then have a new codebase to maintain I thought let's just package up Moodle so that we don't actually have any maintenance issues in this regard. All we have to do is keep up with the latest version of Moodle and then over lay the minimal Offline enabled code we have on to it. We then package it into a web server and database environment and create an installer (wndows and mac) or an install process (linux) and away we go.

The reason for this in some ways clunky approach. Flexibility. In my experience if you try to hit a moving target then you better have lots of ammo and the ability to move to where you can take the best aim. The approach we're using has the ability to adapt to most situations I can think of and basically run from anywhere that moodle can run. The enhancements we're making are aimed at improving Moodle first and then making an Offline version of Moodle possible. So the incremental backup work has firmed up the backup process making it more reliable and easy to develop and fix but also added new functionality useful to all administrators not just those using Offline solutions.

My hope is that now we have a better way of getting data from a to b it'll be easier to develop what ever solution is necessary for offline work. Because backup and restore is implemented for all modules, early signs are that it should thus be possible to make offline capabilities available for all of them.

Is the answer Google Gears?
It would be great if it could be, given the weight and experience Google can throw behind it. I was thinking about it over the weekend and the main problem I see at the moment, hopefully there's a way around it, is that there's now way to get files from the web server to the browser. Getting data there is not a problem that's what it's designed to do. What about Google docs you ask, yeah well as far as I understand they're virtual documents stored in a database. You can download them but they have to be translated to physical files first. Therefore since they're just data they can happily be stored in Google Gears. Right now though we have no way of making pdfs, microsoft office documents, mp3s etc into data rather than files and storing them in a way that won't crash your web browser.

thinking about it that's not necessarily the biggest problem in the world. maybe you just say that you can only access files when you're online and the rest is available when you're offline.

I just think that now we're in a better position we can think about these issues knowing we now have solutions and can put something real in place.

Update: 19th September 2008
I just found n article abut google gears one year on. I thought it might be an interesting reference. Particularly their approach to standards. If gears does adopt standards such as html 5 sooner than the browsers it's installed in then it would certainly make adopting these standards much easier and help all web apps improve quickly. Let's hope it is true.

I've also just come across an article which covers some of the fantastic results for the OLPC project as useful background.

Update 2nd February 2009
I really like Google Gears, especially now that I've been using it in Google Docs among other things for a while now. There are also those trying to package a web server, database and gears solution. Mozilla Prism is one example. I've also learnt that similar technology may become part of the  html five specification. is  So soon we may no longer have to bundle a web server and db to provide offline apps. Fantastic!! 

OK then, what do we need to do to take advantage. That's something I've been thinking about for a while. For me it's about adopting programming standards and approaches that both make mobile and offline applications possible but also improve the reliability and performance of Moodle core aswell. 

Therefore I’d just recommend we work closely with Moodle to make it easier for the client side code to interact with the page. By this I mean the pages delivered by Moodle are difficult to manipulate to the degree that you’d like if you were developing a rich internet application. It’s also difficult to ask specific questions of the system so you can then display them on the page. Again it’s not so easy to just ask simple questions like ‘get me the posts for this forum that this user can see’ or ‘what are the latest news articles for this course’. 

Currently in Moodle you can ask the question but the answer you get is written as html for a page. It isn’t something you can then combine with other information and manipulate easily. An analogy I’d use is that you ask a question. You just want a straight answer, one sentence. What you get is a lot of info you don’t need about how to present your answer. All this is several paragraphs long. Not only did it take long to write but it fills up your inbox because it’s sent as an image that’s 10mb. So you can’t copy and paste the answer, you have to load up the image and re type the answer. Basically things like asking and answering questions of Moodle need to be efficient in any Gears type approach, be aware of the limited network bandwidth available. You also need to be able to use the info for what you want not what Moodle has designed it for. 

Developments focused on addressing these needs will prove very beneficial when you try to increase Gears use because you basically need to be able to ask the server lots of questions and get lots of info back in a short time. Then you need the power to manipulate the page to show the answer to the user. You also need the ability to do the reverse and get Moodle to store info etc. So making this easy within Moodle is a task that needs to be addressed whether it’s offline or mobile moodle we’re talking about. 

Don't think this work will only benefit Offline/Mobile Moodle. Work like this will benefit the whole of Moodle making it more responsive, easier to develop and more robust. 

I believe the Moodle 2.0 release will go some way towards this goal however I haven't seen the code and don't know in practice how far it will have come. I do know that what I'm suggesting is really about constant maintenance much like keeping a room or house clean. You just need to keep on top of it. 

So in summary, I would begin use of gears and develop the knowledge within the community of its use and how to develop with it. I would also address issues within Moodle that will present themselves as Gears use (or any other similar solution) scales up.

edit 20100326
I've been receiving requests for the latest version of the Offline Moodle installer. It's 56mb so too large to email and I'd rather people just had access to it rather than having to ask. So I thought I'd go ahead and put it up on my gdocs account as Offline Moodle v0.4 Setup.exe. Follow the link, click download (56mb), and then Download anyway. Aplogies for taking so long to post this. the main reason is down to competing priorities. We love offline moodle but it's not the only project we love so I've been pulled onto other things since. Before releasing I wanted to review the installer to make sure it was ready for release. I didn't get time to do that so I didn't feel condfident releasing. Yep, I'm paranoid, I test everything, and then sometimes even test again.

Anyway I've sent the file to several people who requested it and never had any complaints so I assume it must  work well. I've also been using it regularly as a one click moodle installer and php environment and I haven't found any problems with it. So now you have access to it. The code is 2 years old. If you'd prefer a more up to date version, or would like to customise it I've explained how to create an offline moodle so you can create your own.

In terms of using it we've tried to make it self explanatory. Please comment here if you have any specific questions. Also be aware there are refinements we wanted to make but didn't get time. A lot of the ideas are about making installing and starting it up easier. Currently it's not as seamless as we'd like.

In terms of getting courses in and actually using it we used the Moodle backup process. We haven't put synchronisation into this version. We've kept things simple. What you get is a pre installed moodle that's ready to run. All you need to do is add courses to it by restoring courses to it or creating them yourself within Offline Moodle.

It's built to be run from a usb or other detachable media aswell as running direct from your hard drive. YOu can literally plug it in to any windows based device and run it as normal. The only thing you have to do each time you move it is click an option to tell moodle where it's installed. Again, we'd like this automated. We don't want students to be worrying about these technicalities. We just didn't get time to address this.

I'm looking forward to hearing how you guys get on with this. I hope it's helpful. Let us know what uses you find for it.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Can we both enjoy our meals more, and become healthier?

Along the lines of a previous post I've always subscribed t the idea that a balanced life is what leads to a balanced body and mind i.e. one with less disease and problems. On that note I was just having my lunch and I realised I wasn't really paying attention to it. I was too busy reading the magazine on my desk. So even though I'd loving ly prepared it. I was really just wolfing it down without any real interest.

My wife's really shown me how to appreciate food and take my time with it. In doing so I've found that I don't need to each as much food as I used to. It's as though my mind needs to be satiated as well as my belly. By learning to really appreciate my food I'm finding that the real intense hunger I used to have for simple density and amount has been replaced with a desire for quality.

Seriously, to give a quick example something as simple as cake. By using basic boring concepts such as surface area to volume ratio, sorry if you're now feeling sleepy, I realised that rather than having one chunk of cake, I could cut the same amount into say 3 slices. this way I take a little longer to eat the cake and it forces me to savour each mouthful. Then by the end I actually have had enough cake. I could still eat more, don't get me wrong but I'm not desperate for more like I used to be.

I was also put onto this idea when I heard a report that the French don't have the same high cancer and coronary heart disease risk that with the Brits do yet they, given their type of cuisine, eat plenty of saturated fats and dairy products just like us. How do we explain that. Well one reason given is basically their way of life. One specific aspect is their attitude towards food. They absolutely detest rushing their food. they don't like to eat bland tasteless food and would rather have a smaller plate of some thing that tantalises them than eat a large palte of something dull.

I'm obviously generalising quite a lot here but that's the main point than came across. Obviously not all the French population will subscribe to this view but I do believe other cultures value taste and the experience, particularly not rushing it, much more than we do and I also believe that many of these cultures are healthier.

Any way it's food for thought, do you like the pun :-), as a way to adjust your lifestyle towards maintaing or losing weight rather than gaining it yet in a way where you gain something (taste and an experience) and add to your life rather than just taking away from it which is generally how weight loss is promoted.

Learning: Should you give a concrete example or an abstract one?

I was just thinking about something I recently read and thought. Damn it I should put this on my blog so I've got a record, so here I am.

So what was it I was thinking. Well as usual with me it's a long story so I'll try and break it down into something short :-) if you've read any of my other posts you'll probably already be laughing.

So anyway here goes. The topic here is learning. I read the BBC focus magazine, can't recommend it highly enough if you're into the science behind life in a readable form, and I saw a little snippet in there that said a study had found that people were better at applying abstract concepts if they had been taught these concepts in an abstract way rather than using a real life example. The study focused on maths concepts and it's a fascinatin way of looking at things.

That's what i was thinking about briefly and since I read that every now and then I've been wondering how true it is. Not to say it's not true at all, but that maybe putting it that way is a mis understanding of the way most of us learn. I've taught myself and lots of others many things and I feel both ways work, abstract and real life, it just depends on the person and their experience or ay of working.

Just now though I realised that a similar concept was taught to me many years ago during my A level PE. It was in the Psychology aspect when we were looking at methods of teaching. They termed it distributed practice and blocked practice and also I think a couple of other terms like varied practice and specific practice.

The first two would focus on how long you spend on specific skills. Blocked practice was spending a specific chunk of time on one skill e.g serving for 15 minutes. Distributed practice was mixing in a few different skills like serving, then volleying, then hitting a smash all in one. The time taken would be say 45 minutes (3 x15 minutes) and match the time given for blocked practice.

The last two focus on what is learnt during each period. Varied means say two or three skills are worked on during a session, specific means just one is focused on.

This is all a bit high faluting I find (don't know if I spelt that right) because in real life I just find it's best to think about what is really going to happen and what is going to be asked of the student. For example in teaching tennis I like to get people serving in their first or second session (I'm talking the simplest dolly serve you can think of) because who ever heard of playing a round of tennis with out serving. So The serve is the single most important shot there is because it starts every rally in every game. Therefore while it's an advanced skill when done wel. I like start people early on to help their motor pathways get up to speed. Anyway that's a bit of track.

What I learnt from my A level was that you could mix the concepts laid out above in anyway you like but they had found that specific blocked practice (spending 15 -30 minutes practicing one skill only) made you better at that specific skill when performing it in the same manner as you practiced it. That is better than some one who's been playing short rallies designed to develop more than one skill. When you test in this specific (closed) manner you'll find the person being taught one skill will do better. However as soon as you just throw them in a game you'll generally find that the person who learnt in a more random (open) fashion will generally do better. The main reason I feel this happens is because sport is about doing what is necessary at that point in time. Every shot and situation will be unique, under pressure you generally follow what your training has taught you. Thus those trained in highly controlled environments aren't used to these rapidly changing unique contexts. They're exceptional when everything is just right but not so good when it's a little different.

On the other hand those used to variation and uniqueness in their training are far more comfortable when the the play a normal game and the pressure is on because this is very much what they've been training for. They don't have so many specific situations that they excel at because they haven't spent the time on this. What they do have is breadth of knowledge and experience of what solution to apply for each challenge they face.

Now bringing it back to the study I started this post with. I would compare the blocked specific training to presenting a maths problem in a real life context, I know at first that may sound strange but what is happening is just just one example is presented for a specific amount of time, the abstract example focuses more on general expereince and unerstanding, the concept behind the example. this relates more to the varied distributed practice which focuses on the abstract concept that every situation in tennis is unique to that time and place. Some are more familiar than others but the skill to learn is what is the best solution for the particular situation.

So what do I take from this, yep I really just think about these things because I want to find an answer that fits what I know and can still explain what's being said. Reason being it was putting me off giving specific real life examples but some thing inside me was saying "there'll be a way to get round this , don't you worry". Hopefully now I've explained it.

But I probably really need to nail it. What I'm saying is that to get some one to understand a concept it's perfectly fine to use a real life example. The thing is they will probably find it difficult to extrapolate this to other situations unless they're really used to doing so. Therefore if the concept and not the example itself is key then you absolutely must use more than one real life example to teach the concept.

It also helps if the examples are sufficiently different. If I taught a concept about tennis, say footwork and how it helps you with balance then football or rugby would be better as another example than badminton or squash because the former are not racquet sports between two or four people, they are team sports with completely different rules and objectives. By doing this you really show how the same concept can applied in completely different situations. 

The student may not fully understand things at this point, some people need to mull it over themselves a little, outside of the pressure of their classroom, before they truly understand things. The point being you've given them enough food for thought. By having two, three or more good simple examples they have to make them all work in their heads and in doing so get to practice and therefore learn the concept fully.

Phew. There we go. I think I'm getting quicker at getting to the point. Anyway I hope that makes sense. I'll get some comments anyway if it doesn't

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Am I a Personal Trainer?

I mentioned previously that I'm looking to get qualified as a tennis coach. That's mainly because I absolutely love playing and I've now learnt alot about all aspects of the game and want to pass this on. Plus I've learnt a lot of things that aren't common knowledge and I'd like to pass these on to my students as well to help them gain an edge.

I got thinking about it and wondered why I hadn't become a personal trainer in the first place. The reason being my skills and my passion extend far beyond the one sport and also cover health and fitness among other areas. Health and fitness was the prime reason for me doing my A levels and then my degree. I know, I know a sports degree isn't particularly specific to health related activities. Well it's because I like to be active and I wanted to learn about the active side of life and how it can help.

Anyway the reason I've never ventured into personal training goes back to my days as a gym instructor. My impression has always been that there are a few important barriers you have to over come. One main one being, where are you going to train your client. I found that most gyms seemed to already have their 'resident' personal trainer and that the trainer wouldn't be too happy about you 'working their turf'. I thought that without the support of a gym it'd be awkward to work the whole body easily. In truth I was concerned customers would be put off because they woudn't have access to the comforts and facilities available at a gym.

I think I just wasn't confident in myself. it seemed like a really big intimidating thing to do and it was also something that often takes a while to take off and get enough clients. Now I'm realising how blinkered a vision that is. I'd forgotten all the exercise I already knew that didn't need a gym. I'm also remembering that specific exercises are very easy to come by. With the right knowledge you can create something specific to the client or pick from any number of sources a set of exercises that are right for your client. The key is having the knowledge and that is what I am strong in.

So now I'm seeing that one of the major barriers may not be so big at all. I've advertised as a 'Tennis Coach in Training' but the response I'm getting so far is that I need to be qualified first before any one will be willing to give me a go. Fair enough. I'm looking at going through the RPT accreditation to get qualified, as it's cheaper than LTA but just as good.

Thinking about it though I just don't want to restrict myself to Tennis. It's too narrow a focus particularly given my focus has always been on understanding the human animal itself, both in a performance and health context. I've covered a lot of different topics to gain a good understanding but then that's what I like. Lots of different angles on the same problem.

I kind of wrote this article as an exercise in thinking on paper and I feel it's helped a lot. I feel I need to figure out what skills I should prioritise first rather than spreading myself too thinly. To do that I need to see if there is a label out there that already fits.

Next up is the concept of Life Coach. The thing is I don't know exactly what they do, so I'm going to have to find out so I can figure out if that's me or not.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Are we supposed to eat much dried food?

Random question I know but I like to look at things from all angles. So what triggered the question?

There's always a debate about what we're supposed to eat naturally but we've got a new dog and getting her the right food is giving me new insights. It doesn't answer the question but it gives me new valid experience.

My mum has had dogs for years now. They've always been fed on dried food and they've really prospered. But now we've got a dog ourselves we've been advised to use wet food from naturediet I can't vouch for it yet myself but boy have we seen a change in our dog. She just plain loves the food and she's so much better behaved and her skin isn't flaky like it use to be.

Anyway what's the point of this little detour?
Well it's because for breakfast, sometimes I eat a kind of nut crunch that's very much a dry food with milk thrown in. It's full of nuts and oats and is probably great for me but the added bonus is that I love it. Then other times I have porridge with some raisins added. I let the porridge sit a little for the milk or water to soak into the oats. I have other breakfasts but recently that's what I've been doing.

Since it recently got quite hot in these parts as summer is coming along I just found how dehydrated I got. Now that's obviously cos I hadn't started drinking enough water to compensate for the heat etc. No biggie. But what did happen was my gut was painful and I'm pretty certain this was because I had nut crunch for breakfast which is basically dry stuff with milk thrown on. The point being the milk doesn't have time to soak into the nuts and grains to soften them and also it may not have time to make the grains easy for the body to absorb and thus their nutrients may not be available to me.

Now other days I have a bit of porridge. It's fair to say that the oats don't get much longer for the milk to be absorbed but they do get warmed up and then left for say 5 minutes to soften and it's certainly a different texture. I don't recall having pains in my stomach after eating porridge, at least pains that I can attribute to the food being particular hard and scraping their way through my bowels (sorry to pain such a picture but I don't know a better way to describe how it feels to me).

so what I'm wondering is whether dry food is as good for us as wet food both nutritionally and pure comfort. I don't know the answer to this. I just like to ask the question. I'm not worried about changing my diet because of it, mainly because I feel our bodies are used to this problem and have all sorts of ways to get round it. My expectation is that if the oats and nuts are harder to extract nutrients from then our bodies will start using processes that are either more forceful at extracting the nutrients or they'll start producing enzymes and other things that break down everything so that more of the nutrients are available.

It wouldn't surprise me if I met a nutritionist that explained that either of these approaches or even both were possible. What I do know is that studies on mice have shown that when mice are deficient in a certain mineral their bodies get better at extracting it from their diet. Therefore unless my diet really doesn't contain something essential I do feel it'll find a way to get what it needs. So I'm more interestted in making sure I'm there or thereabouts with my nutrition. I don't expect to be absolutely perfect all the time.

So nutritionally I doubt it's a big problem as long as our bodies are given time to get used to the challenges of getting what they need from dried food. that's an assumption but I expect it to hold true. I think I'm really getting at whether this is a comfortable way of living. Given that dried food will need a significant amount of water to be added to it before it passes properly through the body. So it'll either take that water from reserves in the body or we have to take it in. This opens a flood of other implications and questions and that's what I'm really getting at.

I'm not going to go into them here. Just wanted to make the point and see if anyone has any opinion, experience or knowledge.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Learning from just one session of tennis

Ok, I've come back from a game of tennis and I wanted to make a couple of notes. A big part of the reason for this blog is to collect my thoughts and I need to keep this brief so here goes.

The main points I want to make are about:
  • Transfer of learning: where the transfer is and is not
  • how to unlearn bad behaviours
  • the use of techniques from the book 'the inner game of tennis'
Ok how can I make so many points from just on session of tennis?

Well first off I've been playing around with transfer or learning because I wanted to see if I could play tennis left handed given that I'm right handed. A tried it a few years back and couldn't believe how just after a few hours I could play forehands, backhands and volleys. It felt quite natural after a short period of time. I'd learnt about transfer of learning, the idea that once you've learnt a skill on once limb it's easier to learn it in the other, before and this has even been shown when you just observe someone else. I thought that'd be a great time saver and also practically it's been useful when I've injured my right hand cos I can still play with my left.

I did notice though that while I could play the shots I didn't have the power, strength or other physical attributes I had playing with my right hand so I have focused on building these things up. It's come along way and today I feel I'm was almost better on my left side than my right. I focused on quality of shot today so my shots weren't so powerful. I think that's where my left side is weaker. What I noticed a big deal though is that my left handed shots are much more natural and fluent compared to my right handed. I've felt this for years but since I only played right handed I had no reference. When I'm warming up particularly shots from my right hand often fly off in weird directions. The warm up for me is almost a battle to calm them down. What it feels like is that I'm going through the motion and all of a sudden a muscle or a nerve suddenly causes a tiny jolt and the racket head moves offline. All this time I've never found a way to stop it. and I think it's because I don't know which part of the kinetic change is having the problem, and it may be more than one part.

Playing with the left side though it was fluent right from the start. So thinking things through I began to feel that the problem is likely to be in the sequence used by the nerves of my right hand are to trigger the muscles. I feel the problem is closer to my right hand rather than being in my brain or spinal chord.

Why do I say this?
Well, it's a presumption to be honest that I've worked out given my experience of the body. basically as a software developer who also has experience in IT and it's hardware side I look often at the mind and body as you would if you were putting together a pc or something. And every time I learn about the human body I find that it's generally years ahead of pcs and software. So what i do to understand it is think, what would be the best software I could right or hardware I could build. I bet it's what's running the body. and more often than not I find that the answer I get seems to be supported.

Any way that sounds pretty crazy but here's my thinking. My left hand plays fine but my right plays jerky. I learnt really quickly on my left hand because I'd had years playing on my right. When I warm up my left hand my right hand needs less of a warm up and vice versa. Some of these things you could explain just be being warmed up and other reasons. But my view is that the brain and spinal chord basically make up their own little program for each shot I play. They make the program flexible by allowing the senses and mind to tell it certain things like how fast to go, what height to start at and what power to use among other things. But the little program itself simply calculates the sequence and timings in which to fire each muscle group. This program also listens thousands of times a second to the rest of the body to see if anything has changed like there being spin on the ball so it bounces differently. This may sound far fetched but tyhere is plenty of evidence of this kind of thing happening in motor control studies.

So how do you get transfer of learning?
Well as a software developer once you've written a program to solve a problem, if you've done a good job it should be relatively easy to adjust that program to solve other related problems. You also don't want to copy and past the code you wrote. You want to adjust the code, maybe add a little extra sub routine or something than does a little more but basically make your original program do more without having to write too much code.

That's how I think the body works. Logic says to me that if it knows how to do something on the right hand. Then surely it can just reverse the idea for the left hand. This is awkward for us to do at a high level but with practice we can do it. But at the low level of software it's very simple. I think this is probrably how our bodies solve this.

Anyway what point is this. Well if that's the case then I don't think it will technically be the program itself that causes the problem. I think the program actually sends signals to the nerves and at some point these signals work differently for my right and left hand. It could be the way the nerves have adapted to trigger the msucles. This could be different for each side of the body and to fix this is would need a physical adaptation. It could be that as the signal leaves the spinal cord there is a cell or set of cells that store a program that interprets the main instructions and applies them for that side of the body. At this point there could be a mistake. Either explanation and many others are possible. I'd love it if some one who has more expertise could explain to me in more detail what is actually happening.

Anyway is there a fix?
That's where Gallweys' book 'The Inner Game of Tennis' is a real insight for me. I read it a few years ago and it's helped me ever since. He explains in detail a simple method for training yourself that I have to say is just about the most effective and practical peice of advice I've every had for learning physical skills.

he basically says don't beat yourself up when you get it wrong. Just be clear in your mind what you want. Visualise it. Then ask your brain to do it. Then relax and just play the shot, but let it come from your body. don't force it. You won't always improve straight away but if you just keep at this then over time and often quite quickly you'll naturally get it right.

i can't mention how many times this works for me and over the years I've just found more and more research from lots of different areas that explains why this approach should work.

So, without going into detail, that's how I plan to fix this problem. just by using my left arm as a good reference, visualsing and feeling how it should work and then letting my right hand just play. Overtime I know the jolts will go. I'd just really like to know quite where exactly they're coming from.

Are there 3 angles to being healthy and fighting the ageing process?

I just thought I'd post this to stimulate discussion and see what others think. I'm fascinated by the question 'What makes us age?'. I hear the biological answer that each cell has a telomere which shortens as a cell divides. Ultimately each cell is only allowed to divide a certain number of times until it dies. The thing is that doesn't actually explain why some people seem to age faster than others. Why are some spritely at age 60 while others can hardly walk.

I think we don't know the full answer because it's really complex and will be aresult of what you're born with (genes and envrionment e.g wealth and support) and what happens to you and the life you lead. I don't think there are any surprises there.

What I wanted to put out there is a general principle that interests me. I believe very strongly in the principle of 'use it or lose it' when it comes to your body. I've seen for years those people who use their mind or their physical abilities are generally the ones who will have these abilities for a long time. Those who don't bother often lose them. I can't prove this. That's the problem but I do notice reports from coroners that during autopsies the signs of disease most common in older people are becoming more common in those much younger.

The main thing I keep coming round to is looking at my life from 3 angles.
  • Energy + Materials
  • Stimulus
  • Repair
For each angle I think in terms of balance, so are you getting enough as in not too much and not too little.

Energy and Materials
I could have just stated energy which is often how food is calculated but that misses the point that carbs, proteins and fats are basically building blocks right from dna, through to cell walls and items inside cells, through to entire structures such as muscle which is largely the proteins Actin and Myosin. So to categorise it just is wrong.

That said food and water are a hot topic. I feel some people focus too much on it at times. I think it's important to get things in the right quantities and fro the right sources but I also feel our bodies are built to adapt above all things. They have numerous ways to adjust so that they get just what they need from what they're given. As long as they get enough. Like I said, not too much and not too little.

so what is enough. Well it's hard to say accurately right now without writing a thesis. What I will say is that you're body is well designed to figure this out for itself. The thing it needs for this is:

For me that is Physical, Mental and Spiritual. Any one who knows a little about mental and physical training will understand that the process of training itself generates a demand from within the body that it stay in good shape. Generally the more stimulus the better but this is quite simplistic because you can give too much and there are lots of different kinds of stimulus. For example each muscle can be trained in many different ways for differeent results; fast, slow, statically, full range of motion, concentrically, eccentrically. The list goes on. Mental training is the same. you can train concentration, problem solving, anger management, memory, perception and lots more.

Spiritual training is hard for me to explain to be honest. I'm coming from the angle of explaining things through the mind, body and soul therefore spiritual seems like a good term. This may be dealing with your emotions, dreams and fears and basically many of those areas that transcend the mind and the body.

A common theme among research I read and experience I have had and I've heard from others is that without these kinds of stimulus we as humans don't grow and often wither. Each challenge is often difficult for us to go through but it's also what keeps us growing or maintaining the strength and condition we're used to.

Nature is amazing that it has built machines that can repair themselves. It's kind of obvious really. If left long enough every system needs work done to it. Sometimes to repair cracks, other times to bring it up to code because things have moved on.

That's what happens in real life. Your body is a working machine whether you push yourself hard or not. It's constantly preparing for famine while hoping for feast and it makes decisions constantly about whether to shed muscle and tissue to save fuel (calories) or maintain the status quo for a little while. Just like our road and rail network where (atleast in milton keynes) much of the work is done during quiet periods such as over night when everyones asleep, our bodies face the same challenge. They can't fix an injured muscle while we're running away from a lion. No we wait until we're safely at home and we know we're safe.

Well research I'm reading and opinions I'm hearing lead me to wonder if the reason for high coronary heart disease levels in the UK and other western nations is that we never stop running any more. When adrenalin and it's related hormones of the fight or flight response are present in tells the body not to repair itself. We're told that coronary heart disease occurs because fats gets lodged in damage tot he arterial walls. It hit me recently, why is the damage not being fixed. Our bodies are higly adapted to the way we live and are much better the current medical science at fixing themselves. What is it that's stopping the body fixing this itself. That's just a thought and an observation.

So basically I feel of the three angles I've described I feel it's most important to make sure all three are being taken care of and focussed on rather than any one in particular. I feel those that are healthiest will have adopted a life that embraces this. And I also think that we're born to want to keep these 3 in balance but the pressures of life and the social situations often encourage otherwise.

I don't want to go into all the other observations that for me make a strong case. I just want to see what other people think. Maybe I'm missing the point. I like to learn from other peoples opinions. So let me know what you think.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Offline Web Application such as Offline Moodle will take off when Wifi is everywhere

Another point I'd like to make re Offline Moodle is when people argue that with the advent of wifi and it's continued advance, in time the web will be available literally everywhere. I hear people say, 'Doesn't that make an Offline Moodle useless?'. I understand what they're getting at but I argue no it doesn't. It's great to see that at the OU they have a vision that goes beyond the Offline World as being one without internet access.

To make the point I want to back in history to when mainframes ruled the computer. Back then it was dumb terminals and all the power was in the mainframe. In the internet age I see that the mainframe is the big web server or web server farm and the dumb terminal is the browser.

In this day and age we've had the pc for years and the trend has been to have faster and faster machines i.e. intelligent terminals that take processing away from the main frame and very importantly reduce network load and latency. Basically if you want to do lots of cpu intensive nifty things with data you can either bring the results to your machine and do the processing elsewhere (Mainframe) or bring the data to you and process it on your machine (pc - server). All I can say is that the pc model seems here to stay and there are good reasons. Once we try and do really difficult things in real time it's just not possible to rely on passing things up and down network cables and still deliver. You have to do everything at such fast speeds you can't wait for the server.

Lots of people are now asking more anbd more of their browser. Google Mail for one has an entire library to load that makes more things happen instantly without round trips to the server. This happens in the human body. The brain oversees everything but it delegates reflex actions to the spinal cord because it simply cannot react in time when required. The brain is actually an extension of the spinal cord and is just a biological network. The spinal cord relays to the brain what it is doing just like the browser will relay to the server but the brain delegates control to the centre closer to the muscle in question and I believe that in time this will happen in web applications. This means that in time web applications will support this model innately rather than as an add on as they currently do with approaches like AJAX.

So how does this all relate to Offline Moodle?
Well first off If web access is available everywhere then it becomes the server itself and the network that's the limiting factor to growth. Just like the pc model I expect browsers to do much more and so Moodle will run more and more within the browser or a supporting layer on the client.

We've chosen to bundle a full Moodle with the architecture required to run it simply because to be truly 'offline capable' Moodle itself needs to change from within to support offline functionality. I feel it should be built to run inside mobile technology such as googe gear, adobe air or whatever is deemed best. But that decision isn't for us to make it's for the Moodle community as a whole.

That's why right now all we're really doing is pulling the architecture together that's required, stitching it together and making sure it'll be viable in a suitable environment. The reason is that Moodle itself isn't quite ready along with the rest of the web community. Solutions are coming along and hopefully soon the growth of offline web applications will fuel the debate and deliver better solutions. But for now we're just trying to work behind the scenes to enhance the existing functionality so it can support the demands that will be there once offline applications become more prevalent.

AS is normal in this fast evolving worl. I can't prove that mobile web apps will follow the trend of the pc but I feel that natural evolution and the factors involved will push applications this way and I think it's already starting.

What's to come with Offline Moodle?

Offline Moodle

Alternatives: Jolongo

There are many ways to achieve the Offline dream. It's interesting to hear everyones different opinion. I wanted to avoid being tied in to any particular solution and I didn't want to build in any barriers to people getting involved. Solutions like Adobe Air sound wonderful but I have to expect there will be a cost involved in both getting the tools to work with the Air technology and learning the skills to work with it.

Other challenges are that I expect flash and related adobe technology will be necessary to make this functionality work. I remember a presenter at the recent Educa Online Conference I attended who lamented the overwhelming number of java versions available to different mobile handsets. Supporting each individual version has become the bane of his companies life. I wonder whether this could be the same for Adobe Air (I have no evidence to support his I'm just thinking out loud) because if adobe has to get its technology onto mobile handsets then the same situation is likely to occur. Each device will have different capabilities.

Fundamentally the different for the approach I've been pushing is that the technology should not be important. You just need a web server and a database to make Moodle work. Sure it's kind of a sledge hammer to crack a walnut but then that's because devices don't generally come with these already in place. If they do then it's a relatively easy job to adjust the configuration to suit. bascially Offline Moodle is a lot of separate components loosely tied together. For example the web server and database is supplied by xampp. If this distribution falls behind the competitors then we'll just switch to them. If Adobe Air becomes the way to go we'll switch to that. I've focused more energy on making it easy to switch than worry about what technology underlies things because I expect a new kid on the block all the time

I don't know if the concept we've used in our Offline Moodle will stand the test of time. The reason I still stand by it is because the skills to developer with Moodle are all you need to develop this Offline Moodle. And the enhancements we're adding such as incremental backups and sychonronisation between Moodles are designed to improve Moodle for everyone not just to make the Offline dream possible. For example very soon it will be possible to generate incremental backups. This should reduce massively the size of the overnight backup run for big institutions and simulaneously slash the disk space required to keep the backups. At the same time the developers at Catalyst have had a chance to address a lot of bugs within the backup and restore feature. These are either in Moodle now, or will be coming in the next release. So Moodles backup component is now more robust thanks to Offline Moodle.

It's for these reasons among many others I stick with this approach. It probably sounds like a rant saying our approach is the best. To be honest I'm not sure. it's up to the market to see what makes the cut. I just felt like putting into words some of the thoughts I've had for a long time. I'm still fascinated to see what solutions other people come up with because innovation is the key to evolution. Long may it continue.

Insulin resistance affects two thirds of the human body. Is there a simple effective treatment?

Insulin resistance affects two thirds of the human body. Is there a simple effective treatment? has been re-produced at my new blog Cell Your Sole.

Ok I'm amazed again. I know it's abit geeky but I'm just fascinated about the human body. I've just been genning up on insulin and boy has it taught me few things. For reference I reading a couple of articles on wikipedia. one about insulin itself and one about insulin resistance. The article on insulin resistance linked to that on insulin and so far I'm part way through both. I just felt that right now I had to log my thoughts.

Feel free to comment if you don't like that I take this from wikipedia or something but I like to read around and the info given sounds well researched.

What amazed me most was the the statement that insulin and therefore insulin resistance has an effect on 2/3 (66%) of the cells of the human body. This is because 2/3 of the human body are muscle (myo) or fat (adipose) cells. These cells are both largely responsible for the take up of carbohydrate and in humans this is primarily glucose. Reading through the list of effect of insulin all I see are effects that are related to heart disease prevention. It's well established that those who are diabetic are at greater risk from heart disease. However I hadn't quite realised that lack of insulin or possibly resistance to it was linked so strongly to effects that would promote heart disease.

I have to wonder why, in all my training and learning has no one made this so clear. Why did I have to research it myself? Strange. Any way, moving on, this is a really positive thing to find out. Now I'll do what I normally do which is look around me and see if that holds up. The next few months are going to be interesting. I've been feeling insulin resistance can explain a lot. Now I have connected this physically I want to see if it plays out practically.

Particularly useful is the concept that if insulin resistance is central to a 'metabolic syndrome' as some people call it, then does the concept of using exercise to trigger glucose transporters such as GLUT4 to become less insulin resistant work as a treatment. I like the concept because it doesn't cost any money to put into practise. You don't need any pills and it is a completely natural process. It also addresses the major difference across the developed world to reduce their activity levels across the board.

I don't think it's a magic bullet, but I do think it's a simple answer to a difficult problem and I believe strongly it'll prove true.

Bacteria and Cells are the Biological equivalent of a car the size of a pin head

I've been meaning to add a post up here that talks about bacteria and cells. I feel that these little guys are much like the atom is to physicists. It's kind of the root of living beings. True DNA would be the fundamental element as it were but these little guys are what DNA is designed to create. That's it's purpose. I would argue that DNA is to the cell what Quarks are to the Atom. Sure the Quarks don't describe the atom in the same way. However and understanding of Quark is necessary to fully understand the atom and it is the smaller unit. To be honest this classification still doesn't fit perfectly. Maybe the cell is just the compound such as water with two hydrogen atoms and an oxygen. Ok, Ok, maybe the reference to the atom is the wrong level. I'm not sure yet, I was think about how much there is inside a cell, the atom isn't like that is it, well from what I'm reading at the moment it does seem like there's a lot going on inside an atom.

Anyway I think the point is clear. Physicists try and explain the atom and it's make up to understand every thing else. They kind of work at the root. Chemists work at a higher level from the molecule. That leaves biologists to look at the basic building blocks as the complex set of chemicals that are dna and the result of this code which is a cell.

My understanding is that the large life forms evolved as bacteria started to live symbiotically almost as their own little community. Overtime they worked so well together that the could specialise on particular jobs because each bacteria was able to provide something the others needed such as ; movement, structure or vitamins and minerals. Over millions of years this eventually evolved in to bones, muscles and internal organs but we can still be thought of as giant clumps of bacteria all working together on a massive scale.

So that's a brief history of what I understand. Hopefully it's now clear why an understanding of the smallest living part of us, through understanding one of its relatives, can unlock the secrets of the whole and help us understand what we need to survive and flourish.

To this end I came across an article explaining a break-through in the understanding of how energy is actually transferred in and out of the body. Not only can we learn a little about what makes us perform well because we learn that riboflavin (vitamin B-12) is the main compound involved, this in turn highlights the importance seemingly miniscule compounds have in our daily lives. What also shows is how advanced even these tiny micro-organisms are and how much we can learn but studying them even a little. It sounds as those the electrical industry is going to learn a lot from them and it should make our lives a lot better and hopefully even reduce the pollution we create in our search for energy.


edit 20090820 14:38
Carrying on the them on a slight tangent. Just came across an artile on microbial fuel cells. I've been wondering if this was an option for the future. Thought I'd note it to show that we're still learning so much from nature on a daily basis.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Repetition: A key to learning

I just came across this way to explain why repetition is such an important part of learning. Let me know if this is helpful.

I was the kid at school that always knew the answer to the teachers question. That's not me bragging it's when I first learned the value of repetition. I'd learnt this from my parents I think, I''m not totally sure. Anyway the kids would often come to me for help. I found out over time that these kids were just as bright as me but when it came to learning new things they didn't seem to have very effective methods.

The main thing I noticed is that they didn't practise what they learnt very much. Bascially when the teacher asked a question I naturally tried to find the answer. It often took me a while but I got better at it through practise. Pretty quickly my brain just seemed to be ace at finding the answer. I even got to the point where my brain just gave me the answers without me asking for them. I learned to trust the answers unequivocally. This has been so useful in all my exams because I've learnt that the first answer my brain throws up is generally the right one. I don't know how it does it in truth but I know I can trust it. The only times it's wrong is when a) I haven't learnt the answer before or b) I didn't learn it properly in the first place and my brain is confused.

Anyway all I see is that my brain learnt early on that it needs to find answers to things quickly and it figured out how to brilliant at it.

how does this insight help me teach others. Well because it's just about training and the responses it brings. My brain got good at finding answers because I kept trying to find answers to quqestions where other people only bothered when they were asked. Therefore I had about 20 times the amount of practice than they had and so my brain was about 20 times better at than then.

You see it's nothing to do with genes it's just having good tutors and a willingness to do what's required.

Any way I said I had a way to explain this. Yes, if the previous explanation doesn't float your boat then try this.

We all have a set of things we do each day. I'm a software developer, others are secretaries etc. We all have things we have to remember each day. things that are filed away some where. Maybe in your email, maybe in a desk or maybe it's just where the food is in the fridge that you are craving right now. Either way we just know where it is.

Why because we use it every day. In the same way we create FAQ lists. It's the most commonly asked for things we focus on.

What about those things we rarely need. Those are the things we hope we have a record of and have to search to find it. Well, what do you generally find first? the thing you use every day or that which you rarely use?

I hope I answered the things you use every day otherwise you may have bigger issues than can be discussed here :-).

Why do we find this stuff faster? kind of obvious really because we do it every day and because it's obviously important to us for that reason.

What does this example show?
Well I feel the brain works like this. When you do something regularly your brain makes sure it has strong links to whatever it needs to complete that task. Whether it's memory cells, muscle cells or whatever. The stronger the link the easier the brain can find it (I think it has some internal ways of prioritising things like this but that'll be figured out in time).

so if you're trying to learn something you need to tell your brain it's important. You also need to make sure it really knows how to do it.

For these two reasons aswell as many others. if you want to remember or learn anything make sure you repeat it enough and in a way that your brain will prioritise it.

Why do I get stomach pains when I exercise?

The stomach is the major consumer of blood outside of exercise because it takes a lot of nutrients and energy to digest food believe it or not. And then obviously it has to cart away what it gets out.

When you start exercising the body adjusts to allow your muscles the blood they need, this is why the heart pumps both faster (more beats for minute) and more per beat (greater stroke volume). It should even out and the stomach should still get about as much of the blood that it did before exercise but while the body is adjusting it doesn't always get enough and it's believed this is the cause of some of the stomach pains you may feel when you exercise

So it can be simple way of your body telling you the stomach isn't getting what it needs. If you know this then you can figure out for yourself if it's serious or something that'll figure itself out.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

What's the fat story? Why do some gain pounds while others stay thin?

Ok I've been sitting on some info about fat cells, their growth and how it's controlled for many years now. I've also added to it from my own experience in the way my body generally seems to work and how other system in the body also seem to work compared to the fat cells etc.

What am I babbling on about? well read this article http://www.livescience.com/health/080530-fat-cells.html It's naturally presented as new research but I'd heard of this around 10 years agao during my degree. I can remember being in the library looking for some studies re a module I as taking. I noticed in a journal a few studies on leptin and it's relation to fat loss. I know it's sad but this stuff just fascinates me. It's bascially why i did the degree.

Any way the research papers I read, which for the life of me I can't remember what they were etc, explained that at the time Leptin was believed to play a key role in fat maintenance. There were theories that your body tried to keep each fat cell full to a certain degree. Say 50%. there is growing evidence that you can grow new fat cells but very little showing that you can remove them.

The theory went that once you have increased the number of fat cells on your body how does your body know what fat level to maintain. i.e does it care about maintaining the same percentage of fat that it always aimed for. Say 15% or something. A little higher for women. Or does it just care about how full the fat cells are. E.g. when the cells are below a certain percentage say 30% then this triggers something, maybe the brain to raise the levels back up again.

At the time it was a big debate and my guess is that the debate is still raging.

My belief is that it's mch more complex than this because I believe our own habits and behaviours and lifestyles getting in the way. We just seem too good at overriding the natural drivers that we have and this has been shown in animals. many of these aren't so good at overriding their natural instincts compared to us.

Anyway I really liked the explanation I got from these articles because it explained clearly to me why it is that some people can readily put on weight and others can't. Maybe it's not the reason but it works for me. The idea is if you have already put the weight on before and therefore have the extra fat cells required then putting weight on is easy because your body is already able to store a load more fat than it already does. However people who have never been overweight will not have enough fat cells to store the excess fat. They will have to build new cells before the fat can be store.d This is going to take both time and a bunch of energy. So in the short term maybe a motnh or two they won't appear to add on any weight. Then all of a sudden they'll joint the fatter classes of society and become like the rest of us.

I find this idea works in every situation I try to apply it.
  • It works perfectly for my own body.
  • It works for the idea that young children who are overweight are predisposed to being over weight when they're older
  • It works for many people I've met who either find it easy or difficult to add fat weight
  • It follows the general principle I have found in the body that once it has found a solution for something it never seems to forget it. In this case it's how to store excess weight
As for whether you can stick at a lower weight or whether your body will always try to maintain an equilibrium at a higher weight than before. I feel that former is possible. I believe firmly the body is more interested in surviving and that it's mechanisms are tuned for that. The levels of fat in our body are crucial for functioning but I expect the storage vesicles are just that. I don't expect the body to take too much interest in a particular cell. I expect it to add up the total amount of fat, make sure it's available where it's reuqired and that there is enough to go round.

That's my opinion anyway.

Muscle balance the key to athletics legend Steve Backleys' success

I realise I haven't really talked much about the training that I have done in the past and what I have learnt from it and what things I have learnt from others that improved my training. Here's an excerpt from a mail I just sent a friend. It explains the reason
I've trained long and hard both physically and mentally many times. The thing I always remember is how boring and tedious it gets no matter what you do. So a huge part of your plan is to know how to reinvigorate things so you maintain your passion and focus. Also you can spend very little time training but get lots out of it. That's crucial when you've been doing it for weeks on end. If it's just a short session then mentally it's easier to face than a big struggle.

For example when I was training at the gym when I worked at an IT helpdesk. My weights programme was just 20 minutes, yep 20 minutes and I worked my entire body.... twice and I knew it was the most I could do because I couldn't physically do another set.... My improvements were through the roof considering I trained once a week, I never plateaued just kept on improving and it didn't hurt. The reason was, I knew what it was doing to my body and why I was improving. I'd been training on and off for 10 years so I knew what worked for me, kept me fit and motivated and fitted with my life.

Have a read of this article about Steve Backley. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Backley He was a top British athlete in his day and taught me something very important about training. I watched him countless times at the Olympics and world championships as a world class javelin thrower. He was Rafael Nadal to his Federer of Jan Zelezny. I once listened to an interview with him about how he overcame serious injury in his shoulder joint which is obviously the most critical joint to a javelin thrower.

The previous article I wrote on muscle balance is really a tribute to what he said in that interview. He learnt that it wasn't about having one muscle that was stronger than his opponents. It was about having a package that's better balanced because for example his triceps complements his biceps. To throw furthest he can only get the most out of his arms when all the muscles involved work really well together in a good balance.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Don't let age slow you down

I've been reading through the articles over at rosstraining.com and been absolutely engrossed. So I checked out his blog and right away found an excellent article that covers a topic I've been wanting to write about. That is how we don't have to slow down our lives just because we're getting old.

Many cultures used to revere their most experienced and learned citizens instead of seeing them as old and losing their faculties. This article and the one before it make some points in favour of living a full life when you've had a full life.


Quick 101 on injury from muscle imbalance

In this short article I'll show how the action of throwing a punch taxes your chest and back muscles in different ways and how this is involved in the development of injuries and how therefore to help prevent them. The action of throwing a punch is a very similar action to others used in sports and has similar effects for the muscles and joints involved those actions. Similar actions include
  • throwing a ball
  • playing a shot in a racquet sport
  • taking a kick in football and rugby
When you throw a punch your chest will be involved in pulling your shoulder joint and your humerus (arm bone) forward. All the while your Latissimus Dorsi (your big back muscle) and a bunch of the smaller back muscles like the Rhomboids and Trapezius will be counteracting and keeping in check the pull of the chest muscle. Once the humerus is almost in front of you the chest has done it's work but the punch isn't finished. It's actually just beginning because the biggest, most important part is controlled by the back muscles. They determine how hard your punch is because they start slowing down the shoulder joint and the humerus down right at this point. Reason: if they don't the humerus will pop out of the shoulder joint and dislocate. So they protect the shoulder joint by managing and containing the force of the chest muscles.

This is called antagonistic pairing and is just as relevant in your biceps/triceps pair in your arm, your quads/hamstrings in your leg and your abs/lower back along with several other muscle groups.

So the story doesn't end there. Now that you see that the back muscles protect the shoulder joint from the excesses of the chest muscles and vice versa you'll begin to be aware that if your chest muscles are too strong then your back muscles are at a disadvantage. If you do lots of punching movements then your back muscles are likely to tire first. Leaving your shoulder joint exposed and meaning that both the shoulder joint and humerus are likely to be pulled too far forward resulting in stretching of the ligaments and tendons and ultimately injury.

Let's add to this and point out that it's easier for a muscle to pull things towards it (concentric action) than to stop something moving away from it (eccentric action). Therefore when punching or throwing (which is basically the same thing) your chest muscles are not working very hard but your back muscles are. So they're also at a disadvantage meaning that they need to be at least as strong as the chest muscles. I'd recommend they be stronger but then this would put the shoulder joint out of whack when doing the reverse (bringing the fists back).

So in summary you should now see why it's absolutely imperative to have balance in all muscle groups above all things. If you're too strong in one area you can bet that you'll be prone to injuries in a related area. To add to this though it's not just pure strength or stamina that you need to prevent an injury.

Not only will you need both e.g. The strength to control a really big punch and the stamina to do this time and time again without injury. You'll also need good coordination in the muscles being used to control this movement so that they are good at applying just the right amount of force. A muscle that doesn't have much coordination will either try too hard to stop the action or two little. Either way they'll put stress on either themselves or the support structure which isn't good.

How do you achieve this? Training. Keep doing the movements at different speeds, as part of different combinations and with other kinds of variety. Coordination comes from you nerves and brain learning how to control the muscles appropriately. This comes just like strength develops from doing the action regularly and with lots of variation. At slower speeds your muscles and brain get to learn the movement without risk of injury and allows you to focus on good technique. Higher speeds risk more injury but also tax the muscle, nervous and connective/support tissue to strengthen and improve. So a mix of these types of training is the best medicine to both prevent injury increase punching/ throwing power or the power from any antagonistic muscle pairing.