Friday, 25 July 2008

Rating how you feel helps you train

I decided to put something up here about RPE scales. These are the standard in measuring how hard some one is working without using any tools. It' s a standardised scale of numbers associated with intensities that has been developed and verified by a scientist named Borg and is know as the Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale.

The scale is very simple, that's a key advantage, and looks like this


Being short and simple makes it extremely simple to use in an intense exercise setting and since it reuqires no outlay in equipment just either write it out on a bit of paper to point to the value or memorise it and record as necessary.

I remember using this during some fitness experiments we undertook at Uni. We did some maximal sprints on a bike. It was so easy to point to the relvant value every few minutes and it was consistent over time.

So why use this tool
The reason I wanted to make people aware of this is that it's important people are aware of fitness testing approaches outside the standard heart rate approach. Measuring heart rate is useful but by no means flawless. Particularly since it has a time lag between any work the triggers a spike in heart rate and anything for 2-3 seconds to 30 seconds in a corresponding increase of decrease in hr. To behonest hr can take much longer to go down and not bottom out during a session.

RPE however is an instance measure relveant to the person being tested. It gives you a real time method of evaluating your work.

A little background can be found in the following articles. My favourite is #4 as it makes the borg scale fun.

Web Applications as powerful as Desktop


That's what I felt straight away when this video started and felt that way most of the way through. The reason being. I like it when people tell me that they're going to develop a bunch of features I've been crying out for for years. Well that's what this talk is about.

It's talking about the upcoming features of Google Gears. what got me straight off is that they state that they want web applications to become as powerful as desktop applications. That's what I've been waiting for along with lots of others and that's their real aim. The initial focus on Offline applications was just a precursor to this.

Just thought I'd pass this on as it gives me a lot of hope for the future of the web.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Changing Tastes

once again I've stumbled across a fascinating article that inspired me to write. Let's see how much I can add to this article.

The piece in question is from the good guys at modernforager.

The article mailny makes the point that tastes change. So you may have a fixed view of what you like now and think that's what you've always liked and will always like in the future. Is that the truth or is it that all foods taste the same to you all the time. Take a gorgeous meal that you've just started. You're starving and it's tasting extra good. Maybe it's christmas and all your favourite food is every. Well at the start of the meal it tast fantastic but what about half way through when you're starting to get full. What about at the end when you're feeling bloated and didn't really want the last several mouthfuls but felt you had to finish your plate. Does the food really taste the same to you now as it did at first. I bet it doesn't. That makes a clear point that food tastes different to us at different times for different reasons.

So the article suggests trying food more than once and, I'd like to add, in different ways. Just to see if there is a style of cooking that makes the food suitable for you.

How could this be? Well I can't prove it yet but I feel the psychological concept of perception is most likely an important player in this. That and your brains ability to interpret the signals from the senses as it sees fit.

So what am I saying?
Well basically I've noticed that my brain is constantly adjusting the signals it receives. Most of the time it receives far too much information so it does the best with what it's given but it will always lose something. It's also always trying to find a balance that we're happy with. So it has the ability to interpret the signals it receives rather than just relay them to us directly. It can turn the volume up or down on just about anything. That's how amazing our bodies are.

What makes me say this?
Well any one who has either increased or decreased the amount of sugar in their tea or coffee, or made their fruit squash more or less dilute for the same reason of not having too much, will understand this. What happens as you increase the sugar or increase the concentration is that at first the taste gets stronger. But very quickly the two spoons of sugar tastes just like one spoon used to taste. So you now add three. Again it gets sweeter for a few days but then your taste adjusts.

I mention this because it's clear cut. Everyone accepts that the drink should taste sweeter and also that in time it doesn't taste as sweet as it should. So it's clear that we our taste doesn't reflect the actual amount of sugar in the drink, something in the middle is adjusting the flavour for some reason.

From a psychological perspective, it's well known that our mind is able to ignore signals from the senses. It's also possible to block the signal from a sense organ at any point along the chain of nerves running from it to the brain where the signal gets listened to So basically we rarely experience the exact flavour of any dish. Our brain always turns up the volume on some flavours and turns down others and interprets the dish and then lets us experience it.

This is the realisation I had a while back and thought, you know what? I wonder how much food I think I don't like but maybe I've forgotten that I used to or maybe I haven't given it a chance. What am I missing out on. When I gave these foods a chance I was patient. I didn't always like them over night. It's like meeting new people or sometimes old friends. We have to reignite the spark and realise what it is they have that we can click with. It takes time.

It also takes time for our senses to rewire and re-program themselves so that they can understand the subtelties of the new food. At first the food may taste bland. For me it's because I was used to foods that screamed at me with flavour. Like a rock band. It meant I wasn't ready for any quiet melodies and subtleties. Over time though my senses and brain became accustomed to experiencing both with equal intensity. It learnt when to emphasise the creaminess of a subtle carbonara dish and next night deal with the strong parma ham and pepperoni on a pizza.

That's how I'd describe the changes your mind and body go through as you learnt to love different foods. I consider it a learning process and now enjoy the concept of teaching myself how to enjoy more and more foods so I'm always entertained.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Apple iPhone or Google Android

I'm just not decided yet about what app to get. My main need is for an internet focused app to fit in my pocket. If it can do 3g then all the better. Apples just look ace and have a great reputation. Android sounds fantastic though, particularly in that upgrades are likely to be free or cheap.

I found this video on you tube about the Android. It just looks ace.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Acheiving your goals means being good at fixing mistakes

I just had to write about this presentation I just watched on how our response to failure is key to learning how to succeed.

The presentation is focusing primarily on business but to be honest I just feel it applies to life. I was lucky that in certain areas of my life, particularly at school, my parents didn't worry about failure. They encouraged and allowed me to grow. To make mistakes and encouraged me to learn from them.

In my work I've really embraced the concept of being prepared to fail. By getting good at learning from and fixing failures I learn how to succeed where others couldn't. Much of what I've done has been in new areas either to the company I'm working for or for the market. This has a lot of pressure as we're always pushing the envelope but I learnt quickly to keep it simple.

I've learnt that creating a good solution is one thing. But adapting that solution to the constantly changing enviroment and demands is what defines whether it will be a success or failure. In the same achieving a goal isn't just about being good at something. It's often about being good in the situation you're given. Building a business when you have no capital to invest, losing weight when you don't control the meals you're given and find exercise difficult, learning to drive when you can't speak thelanguage.

I've adopted the KISS principle of keeping it simple and I pretty much view it like taking a journey. You don't have to do it the way I describe but if you had to get some where at a particular time, for a particular reason and you didn't know how to get there then there are a bunch of standard steps I'd take before even leaving the house.

In the rest of this article I've taken this idea of a journey and tried to show it's relation to a general project. For this article I've kept the idea of a project very vague as, too me, it's just a case of something you want to get done and how you do it and make sure it gets done.

First off I've put some bullet points in how I'd prepare for the journey. Then I've described the key aspects of the journey, how things went wrong and how they were fixed. the I've gone on to do the same for a project. This makes things clear for me because taking a journey is such a simple and logical thing. Viewing it this way I can see project management, and the process of achieving your goals, as a simple logical process too.

The Journey
So here's a short list of a few things I'd do even before we start out:
  1. Get an address: An address is where you are going. without it you'll go to the wrong house or country even (Boston UK or USA?). You'd also double check the address to see if you've spelt it wrong.
  2. Get a map: the map gives you context. How far away is the address. 10, 100 miles. What towns is it near. It helps if your directions aren't as clear as you though they were and it helps when you get signposts cos you know ifyou're going in the right direction:
  3. Get directions: Sure you've got a map but it helps to either plan you're route using the map or ask some one in the know to give you a few directions. If some one already knows something it's silly not to ask.
On the road
So now you're prepared well what if it's a bank holiday and there are massive traffic jams right through where you're going. But you know there is a good back road through that'll get you there on time. It's a concert for gods sake, you've been waiting for months and you don't want to be late. How do you get there and deal with this problem?
  1. Communicate: You've got your mobile on you and you call your mates who have local knowledge. The tell you the roads to take.
  2. Local knowledge: Your phone dies but you've got enough info to follow the map you've brought. Everyone said you wouldn't need it because the route was straightforward but now you're going cross country and one wrong turn could get you lost. the maps recent and it has enough details you can find the country lanes ok.
  3. Keep checking: You keep wondering if you've gone the wrong way because it's dark and it all looks the same. one sheep loks like another to me. So you check at a few petrol stations. At one point you're fine but the other you were heading the wrong direction and wouldn't gone back to the traffic jams and got stuck.
  4. When you're close you can use the directions you printed originally, if you have the ones provided by the organiser even better.
The Problem
Ok, now we've shown how to get from A-B without a hitch, how do you take this approach to other problems. I've matched the bullet points from previously and then given the relevant answer.

I haven't attempted to write down all the thingss I'd check. Just those key points I feel I do all the time and which are crucial.
  1. Address: Make sure you have a pretty good idea what you want and write it down so you can refer to it later. Get it agreed in writing. For web projects I had an html mockup because words weren't good enough. It took a little time to figure out how to make it efficiently but saved all that time at the end cos we had a clear map of where we were going.
  2. Map: What is the context of the project? what is the history behind it. Are there other solutions already available/in development. do other people already know how to do this? can you learn anything from them or their work. What subjects are relevant to this. Do you know where to find info about it if you need.
  3. Directions: do you have a list of key milestones where you expect to acheive key things. for each of these is there already an example of something like this that you can use as reference and learn from. i.e. can you learn from the work they've done and save time.
How it was fixed
  1. Communicate: keep the lines of communication open with your client.
  2. Local Knowledge: use your contacts or your skills with google to get up to the minute info and get yourself out of a jam. Rather than have a big library of my own. I now being good at finding the info when I need it from whatever resource is handy and relevant.
  3. Keep checking: It's easy to get lazy or over confident. I'd rather stop and check a few time. Sure it'll take a little time but, if done right, it's never as much time as you'll waste if you get stuck on the wrong path. I've seen entire projects get binned and redone at our expense just because we didn't check.
  4. When you're close: part of constant communication really but it's so important to get together with the client and revisit the initial brief. Where did you expect to be and where are you now. Can you get there within this project and budget or should you go with what you've got now and finish the rest in another project. I like to do this as early as I can. Say it's a 6 month project. I aim to do this atleast beginning month 5 preferably a few weeks earlier. Reason being, so we still have time and resource to address things we may have missed or new things the customer wants to add. Particularly if it turns out that we've had a different vision to the client.
So there we go. a short set of steps. Done properly I find this really does help me get from Design to solution very quickly and with minimal hassle time and time again.

Getting back to the video that started this post. You'll notice that the steps are really all geared towards checking we're on the right track and that we can recover quickly if we aren't. We don't like to go for too long down the wrong path and we need to have a good idea what's the right pat and what's not.

So we aren't worried about failing because we're good at fixing mistakes. Which means we're confident that we'll get wherever we want to go no matter what hurdles are in our way. As long as there is a path we can follow we'll get there. Or create one for ourselves.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Stretching is best after exercise


Finally I don't feel like the only person to understand that the research on stretching and it's benefits, particularly before exercise as part of a warm up, is equivocal at best. I just found this article which makes the points I discovered during my degree.

Stretching, like any aspect of physical activity, can actually get quite complex. Most people do static stretching but there are many kinds and some offer different benefits and require different levels of knowledge and care. done properly they can be highly effective and prevent injuries. However I still remember research that indicated that joints with more flexibility than the associated msucle could handle lead to injuries, and also other research which found that runners that were too flexible had a reduce in the efficiency of their running style.

None of this says you shouldn't stretch, since it's also recognised that short muscles can lead to injury, many sprint athletes find short hanstrings to be the cause of repeated hamstring strains. What you shuld take from this is that stretching requires respect and a skilled approach like any other aspect. Stretching before exercise is not advisable. Stretching after is. stretching with dynamic movements, bascially ones where the joint is moving rather than being held still, is also recommended for most sports since the benefit you get is always related to the properties of the stretch held.

What I mean by this is that a statich stretch with no movement will help the muscle lengthen in that joint angle for a certain amount. A dynamic stretch through a wider range of motion will allow the muscle to lengthen through that range of motion, not just the one angle.

Cholesterol improves memory and learning

Well here's something new to me. The idea that cholesterol is important in brain function. I'm cetainly reluctant at the moment to follow the many current dietary trends from low carb, to high carb, to paleolithic because I just don't think all the results are in. This little article givesa little insight into why obliterating cholesterol from your body may not be the most well thought out plan .

It's basic biology 101 that cholesterol is part of the basic cell wall and thus is a key structural element of the body. The concept that it's involved in more than just structure is no surprise.

It's interesting to me to note the implications of this study. As I said at the start I'm not convinced so far by the claims of any dietary approach because I feel no approach is without it's side-effects. What I feel is that well adapted lifestyles simply find ways to deal with the side effects to ensure the whole functions properly and free from disease. If cholesterol is required to support brain function and repair. then it seems logical to me that at times where a lot of brain repair is required there would be a lot in the blood and thus the person would show high levels of cholesterol. Yet this may not indicate a cause of the problem, it may actually represent the solution.

Cholesterol levels would be raised even higher if other areas of the body also required cholesterol to help their daily functioning. This seems plausible given the role it plays in various parts of the body

On the whole I've come to form the view that many of the diseases of westernisation may be caused by the mind and body not being given sufficient resource or time to recover from daily stresses and that so many of the indicators we currently use for disease simply reflect the bodies response to this stressed staight where repair and recuperation are desperately needed.

I don't konw how long that view is going to survive but it's fascinating to me that everywhere I look this view just seems to fit like a glove.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Fun distractions help you kick bad habits

I've always felt a big part of gettin healthier, losing weight, kicking bad habits etc is down to creating a new lifestyle or adapting your current one to include things you like that don't involve the things you're trying to involve.

Well here's a little article making that point a little clearer. I know it's obviously realnetworks trying to drum up more users but I still feel the concept is the right one. It works for me all the time. I don't associate going to the cinema with snacks , it was just the way I was brought up, but my wife does. So it's good for me but not so good for her if we see a lot of films cos she snacks and I don't. I've always noticed that when I'm kept busy I don't feel the need to snack but when I veg out I often do. That doesn't mean I don't veg but since I'm aware of it I can then figure out how to be in control.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Hitting from the shoulder helps ground strokes

I love experimenting while I play a sport. It teaches me about my body and hopefully helps me improve. Well today I was playing tennis and for years I've felt both my backhand and forehand topspin shots were a bit iffy on a bad day. Particularly my backhand but neither felt particularly 'natural'. By this I mean I need to warm them up a fair bit before they're reliable and I'm confident with them which isn't that great, particularly if we're playing a game cos when I lose confidence in them it's hard to recover.

At times I feel I've found these shots reliable and more 'natural' so I was convinced I'd be able to find that past success. Anyway to cut a long story short I went back to focusing on hitting through my shoulder rather than through my wrists or my hands. And boy did it improve both shots. I feel like I have a new set of weapons available. It just seemed so much easier to get the ball just where I wanted and I didn't have to think much about it at all.

so what do I mean by 'play through my shoulder'. Well it's hard to describe but it's where I focus my attention. Often I'm really trying to feel the racquet and the hand connected to it so my attention is way down the end of the arm. I've often noticed the ball fly out or go in the net for no apparent reason except that I felt a slight twitch from my wrist or hand at the last moment. I've never foudn a way to completely stop this until now.

I've noticed for a long time that if I just go through the motion of a shot and follow the the natural path the shoulder takes the racquet head is in just the right position at all times. I've also noticed how much easier it is to get consistent depth and pace of shot with little effort.

so that's why I tried it and I was so chuffed that it worked both for my backhand and forehand.

My explanation for this is that I'm basically simplfying the shot for my mind and body and leaving it more capacity to think about placement and strategy and the rest of the point. The reason being it onely has to work with the shoulder rather than the shoulder plus the wrist, elbow and hand muscles. With fewer players at the table decisions get made quicker and better because there's less info to go through and less to monitor. It may also help that the shoulder muscles are closer to the spinal cord and brain so the motor control activity would have less far to travel and thus be faster.

for me I just find the action is no longer jerky and I can literally just set my body in position and then swing. I just focus on pulling my shoulder where I want it to go. I can even turn the shoulder with these muscles to get different spins. For example extreme topspin on both wings is now easy. The backhand needs practise but I'm used to this on the forehand and it works ace.

I also started using this for slice shots and found it helped too.

any way I just wanted to log this very much as my own note in case I forget.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Is it exercise or vitamin d that helps fight cancer?

I've just been reading a fascintaing article at which in part makes a case for low levels of vitamin d being linked with higher incidence of cancer.

Other vitamins and disease links are also put forward. I can't help wondering though at our insistence that diet must be a fundamental cause of our problems. A show I watched last night hinted that this attitude seems to date right back through human history.

Anyway I feel strongly that our bodies are designed to be used in a certain way as well as being fed and watered in a certain way. The thing is our bodies are also used to adapting to all sorts of situations and they have inbuilt mechanisms to protect against misuse. given that they're so complex I think we don't even have sufficient models to map all the data we have about the body so we just end up speculating all the time.

In this case with vitamin D it seems easy to suggest that those people with higher vitamin D concentrations may have got their vitamin D from being outside in the sun. It could take things further to suggest those people who exercise regularly, and enjoy the outside world would have much higher levels of vitamin D than those who don't. I undertand research on women who cover themselves from head to toe shows they have a low level of vitamin D and that exposure to sun light is key in this area. I wonder whether these women have a higher incidence of cancer?

Anyway being active is what humans are designed for. It helps stimulate the body to maintain itself. I would argue that the results of the activity are what actually reduce cancer risk. Maybe vitamin D is involved since most if not all vitamins are involved in repairing the body. However I wouldn't expect vitamin D to be the sole link in the chain. I would expect it to reflect a common link such as exercise or other aspect of the individuals way of life.

Learn more about battling cancer through exercise

Engineering and evolution

Wow, I've just finished watching this presentation by Robert Full to TED.

This is a topic that I feel is worth promotion and understanding. If you want to achieve something quickly it's often best to follow the principle of Learn, do, Teach
  1. Learn from what's already available
  2. Create a working version by using what fits so you only have to invent the minimum necessary
  3. Record and pass on what you've learnt so you have a record and so others can also benefit
I am fascinated by what Robert shows us in his presentation and also with the parallels I see in many areas of my work. Particularly as a software developer I find that the mind and its software is far advanced of any application out there in the mass market.