Friday, 29 August 2008

Think clearly: Warm up your brain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perform well where it counts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The good, the bad and the caffeine

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

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

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

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

Relax your way to health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Are you centred?

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

so check out

Recovery of the Fittest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does recovery determine longevity?

Does recovery determine longevity? has been re-produced at my new blog Cell Your Sole.

I feel it's worth making a note that our ability to recover from what we are put through may affect both our mortality and how we feel right now and will feel in the future.

I'm not going to go into depth right now but I want to log this idea of an overarching theme. The idea that those people who age well may simply be following lifestyles that allow proper recovery. Those that live to a good age may do so because their lifestyles promote resistance to diseases, the best resistance is a lifestyle that allows sufficient recovery from the rigours of each day.

This view is very much coming as a summation of all I have learn recently and previous knowledge. The newer idea that cancer and heart disease could have some relation to diseases, the knowledge that busy lifestyles with little rest and relaxation make it difficult for the body to fight diseases. Also new products with chemical compositions where the effects on humans are unknown to a high degree have become more common place.

I also feel that humans, along with most species are used to this kind of abuse by ourselves and from the environment. It's something we've all evolved to deal with, otherwise we wouldn't be here. Therefore our bodies already have mechanisms to deal with many of these problems. What we need to do is ensure we do all we came to help these recovery processes do a good job. That means learning about them, understanding what they need and making sure they get it.

I also feel that our bodies have developed to make this as simple as they can. Half of it is just to know our own limits.

I intend to return to this post in time to update it. For now this is a simple start.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Ten ways to win with your head

Yep I'm on fire right now. Or rather I've found a bunch of info I just really want to share. You know when you come across some one who thinks just like you do, and puts into words things you've always known and believed. Well this is the case with the guys at winning mind. I've been checking out their background articles and yowser, straight away I just had to highlight a fantastic article written for volleyball that really applies to any wher eyou want to just achieve something and be good when it matters. From an interview to an exam to a sports final. If you want to succeed consistenly you just have to read this simple and informative pdf.

Don Patterson the author has put 10 points to paper that are the essence of how to train for and achieve success. It's precisely how I got 5 A levels. I wasn't aware of this approach back then. I just followed my own common sense. Well most good advice is just common sense dressed up and that's what these are and that's how they read. That's why it's such a joy to read.

Performing under pressure

It's amazing where you find inspiring teachings from. the following video I discovered from an add in gmail. It lead me to a company called winning mind that focuses on pschyological training and assessment for performance and success. My initial view was to be impressed. First off because their testimonials actually had full names and addresses indicating real inviduals and businesses rather than just first names, so the great write ups sound real.

Anyway as a quick intro I found this video which just put into an 8 minute talk. Really worth watching. Just watch the video and wait until the guy talks about lance armstrong. How did he become the best road racer of all time? I didn't know. The answer is fascinating.

performance under pressure

View learning as an investment

I realised something while chatting with a friend recently. I really like the concept of investing in yourself as part of your training. I like to refer to things in positive ways,. e.g. what are you investing your time in as opposed to what have you sacrificed. The former is positive and makes you feel like you gaining something, the latter is negative and makes you feel like you're missing out.

I feel I want to use phrases like:
  • what are you going to invest your time in today.
  • How have you been investing your efforts lately
  • What knowledge have you invested in this past week.

That sounds really good. That's pretty much how I feel about knowledge of how our minds, bodies and souls work. I want to encourage people to invest in knowledge in what actually goes on through out your body. some will be very specific and focused on science. Other parts will be more conceptual and based more on teachings from the past, much like those from many traditional sports such martial arts.

I feel it matters less about how or where you learn it and more on what you take from it. How deeply you understand the teachings. The investment comes because every day afterwards you're now mentally stronger and fitter due to this knowledge. It can't ever be taken away from you. It becomes a foundation that you can always rely on.

It's also like climbing a mountain. To reach the top, the pinnacle of understanding, you have to make many steps. Each bit of knowledge you learn is the next step. When people are inexperienced and in training, I provide the steps for people as I'm their coach and taking them up their first mountain. In time they need to take these steps themselves and learn about how to invest in themselves on a regular basis.

when they do it regularly enough and with enough quality (as usual quantity isn't the key) they'll start to look out at the landscape. With all this knowledge they taken a lot of steps. Since they're further up the mountain they'll be able to take it all in so much easier than they could at first.

How's that for an analogy. If there's one thing I know about it's how to learn something, do it, and then teach it. That's what I've been doing since I was a nipper and I'm really glad that's what I've learnt to do. I look back now on what I've achieved and I've essentially learnt how to learn and how to put it into practise and get results.

Future Success Depends on past Lessons

One thing I've learnt during my career in software development is that if you want to create good applications quickly there's just no point in doing all the work yourself. It just takes too long to build up a decent framework of code from which you can then quicky create the necessary features you will need for now and for the future. It always sounds like a good idea at first, starting with a clean slate and building your own solution. But it never works out that way in the end.

The most efficient way to achieve a reliable, quality application is to find set of pre built tools, learn quickly how to use them and figure how best to get them working together. Then look at their shortfalls and be creative in addressing these. Now your work is on plugging gaps and building on the foundation you have put together.

This approach is successful mainly because it gives you more time to tidy up and put finishing touches on your application. any thing new takes as long to test and touch up as it does to develop in the first place. That's why it's best to take solutions that have already gone through this process, get them working for you. Then add your work on top.

I have found I can use the same approach in every other area of my life. Take sport and exercise. It's tempting to look to the latest science to uncover secrets no one else knows and then capitalise on these. What I often find though is that every new discovery simply reinforces the teaching of other ancient disciplines and ways to training. In truth it's obvious we you consider that most problems we try and solve have been around since humans evolved. That means there have been people trying to fix these problems for millenia. so the chances are someone some where has already come up with the answer before. It's only now though that we have the knowledge to understand exactly whats happening. So really we're just putting the accurate explanation and understanding bnehind the tradition or old philosophy.

That's why I spend more and more looking to history and old lesser known approaches to find knowledge that'll help me today. a friend of mine pointed me to a fascinating article Over at looking at why Cuba dominates world boxing and has done for the last 40 years.

For me the lessons I have learnt are explained here in a practical context. It's a common perception in sport that success comes from investment in facilities and coaching degrees. I firmly believe success truly comes from investment in yourself both in knowledge and skills. It's great to read articles that add to this lesson.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Are Google Apps secure?

I've really been impressed to date with the quality of Googles' output in terms of applications. I've been using Google Docs for a while now and I am really impressed with what it can do already. I can accept the limitations it has mainly because so much is provided for free and it offers things that other mainstream office products don't, the ability to work on the same document from any machine only using a web browser and nothing else. Adding to this it's so easy to collaborate on documents.

That said, given that I'm using Googles tools more and more I got to wondering just how secure it is. Obviously the more I use it and the more I encourage others to use it, the more vulnerable we all are to any particular security hole. Given that I work in IT as a software developer I'm acutely aware of the constant challenge of producing leading edge technology while preventing all security holes. It's a seriously tough task. Plenty of large corporations have failed to take security seriously enough in the past but so far I haven't heard of any major complaints with Google. To be fair though it's only relatively recently that Google has branched out into building applications other than it's search engine and most, if not all, are provided completely free so even if there where serious holes. to what degree would people complain given that they haven't paid anything to use the tool.

So these are some of the questions I had when I decided to look into googles reputation on security. I've listed the articles I found on the subject. To be fair it was just a quick browse to see if there are lots of stories or just rumours. What I found was more rumour than fact until I found the first article listed below. Until that point I'd found a few people suggesting they'd found problems but others pointing out that if there were major issues then surely this would have made news so far. Maybe no one's really using it seriousy and therefore all breaches that have occurred haven't resulted in serious losses. I can imagine that being the case for now but as the tools get better and more robust I can imagine the usage profiles changing.

Google security vulnerabilties stack up
This article presents, in my view, a balanced overview of the security approach Google takes. I think they're big enough now that people view them with enough cynicism whilst still loving their apps. Therefore if they were focused on patching vulnerabilities and actively testing security we'd know about it.

Google Docs security serious compromised
This article is by someone who believes he has access via google docs to documents that he has never written or seen before. He believes some one has saved them in Google docs and he google docs itself has given him access. It's pretty much the worst case scenario you could think of. Unfortunately there's no proof that this is actually what happened but it does highlight the point that you should still never put anything up there that you really don't want others to see.

Warning: Goggle Docs is NOT safe
Ok, this article isn't specifically about security breaches but I think anyone using googles tools would be interested in googles attitude to privacy, copywright protection and the like since pretty much all data stored by its tools are stored on Googles own servers. So even if there are none or few security holes, what if you found your personal content available through other google interfaces.

Overall, given that the tools provided are generally free and very user friendly I'm actually relatively happy with what I've found. I didn't expect perfection. Google Docs is still in beta and if it carries on this way for a long time then atleast Google is being clear that it isn't perfect. Many other corporations aren't so honest. Atleast you know that they don't commit to an absolute failsafe. Since I know this going in I don't expect it and I can change my usage to suit. Don't kid yourself that other software vendors are any better.

What was good to hear is that Google has purchaed a sandboxing technology to help improve security. What I like is that it's putting it's money where it's mouth is and spending on security which is more than many other players have done in the past. So far I've seen constant improvement in the google tools and an active effort to listen to users like me. I've already submitted a couple of feature requests to google docs and I found it as easy as 3-4 clicks to find out how to do it.

It does unnerve me a little to find out that there are some security flaws and that the response Google appears to give when these are highlighted is very much like all large corporations. That's a shame. I do feel that as the applications are taken more seriously other flaws will surface and gain publicity. However I feel that is the case with all software manufacturers and there are plenty out there with worse records. I jst wrote this article to remind myself and others to apply a little common sense to what we post online.

I'll still keep using Googles tools though. Just while writing this entry I was glad I was using Google. I noticed the autosave feature had stopped working indicating that I might lose my post if I submitted it. So I just opened my blog in another tab and found e3asily the last saved draft of this post. Then I copied and pasted into this latest saved version and continued my merry way. I know that my work is constantly saved. On other systems I have lost plenty of work for simple things like this. at least with the new web 2.0 approach simple concepts like autosaving and telling the user if there's a problem have become important and I find Google does what it can to think of these features and provide them for free.

I'm probably just biased on Google at this point. Maybe it's because I haven't been burned by them yet. though I do feel that a company that's willing to provide so many high quality apps completely free and host them for free too deserves a little credit given that very few companies of its size are following the same path.

Monday, 11 August 2008

how to train when time is tight

Quality over quantity is always my first focus in anything I do and exercise is no exception. We often here that to get fit and lose weight we need to run lots of miles seemingly every day of the week. Well I do0n't agree. I don't train as often as others but when I do it's all about quality and yet I'm as fit and healthy as I need to be. If I want to be fitter I can add in an extra session or two in the week easily because they're only 20 minutes long.

Here's a nice article summarising some of the latest research on this topic and reminding us that we can have time to enjoy our lives as well as keep fit and healthy.

How to Grow a Super-Athlete

A while ago an article really inspired me because it explained very clearly why people who do well at sports often practice in a very deliberate and patient way. Something which I'm not the best at.

The trouble is I didn't have this blog to record it and I couldn't find any note about it. Anyway I finally found it after a long search. The article is called How to Grow a Super-Athlete and describes the impact of ground breaking new work uncovering how our nerves grow to provide super fast reaction times.

What fascinated me most was the in depth explanation of the physical process in which our nervous system actually learn. The concept is very much of a system of wiring that continually add new links to provider faster and stronger communication links where a need is identified. Also the wiring system itself is made faster when demand is identified by increasing the electrical insulation provided. In english this means reducing interference on each wire from the surrounding area ensuring the signal travelling along the nerve (wire) is strong and pure. This is also believed to make the signal travel faster.

How fast can you react?

It's all well and good being fit enough to last a match or fast enough to reach a ball but how often have you considered how quickly you react in the first place. By this I mean how long does it take from you seeing your opponent do something to the time you get your body moving in response.

For most people this can be as quick as 0.8 seconds but there is new evidence indicating that it may be possible to react even faster than this.

I feel reaction times can be broken down into the following 3 areas
  1. Identify what needs to be done
  2. trigger the response
  3. communicate this response
Basically the faster you do each of these three things, the better prepared you'll be to respond to any challenge your opponent can throw at you.

1: Identify what needs to be done
Visual acuity is basically how good you are at understanding quickly what it is you're seeing. it stands to reason that the better you are at interpreting what you see, the better you'll be at using the info. This article on visual acuity and reaction times looks at the general debate and suggests methods from improving reaction times. While we focus here on the visual sense. I feel it's reasonable to consider the same lessons will apply to other senses also.

2: Trigger the response
A previous article I wrote referred to research on monkeys that showed that specific movements could be triggered simply by stimulating certain parts of the brain. The previous point considered how quickly you could figure out what to do give what you can sense (see, feel, hear etc). This point is about how quickly you can trigger a response in the first place. It links to point 3 but just emphasises that our brains seem to trigger a pre-set series of responses. Therefore we need to know what to trigger in the first place and that depends on being clear about what we want to do.

3: Communicate this response
Another post on growing a super athlete puts forward a new finding on how we can speed up the bodies process of sending info around itself. Basically getting all the key players talking to each other much faster and with a much clearer voice. The better the communication between areas such as the brain, muscles, senses and reflexes. The faster everything can happen and the more coordinated it will be.

I really feel that it's possible to improve all 3 of these areas and that many people neglect this aspect of their training, preferring to focus on diet, nutrition and physical fitness to achieve their best.

I'm really saying here that there are many more aspects to fitness than most people realise. You could ask
  • Are your nerves fit enough?,
  • Do you use your senses to their full potential?,
  • Do you trigger the right response when you react?
Training these aspects is rare, however, if you look carefully you'll notice that it's exactly what all the legendary players do.

Monday, 4 August 2008

6 Ways Google Docs Can Improve Your Team's Efficiency

Just a straight link here. The article says it all. I'm using google docs more and more so I can have all my docs in one place. This article suggests some uses I have been leaning towards to save time and increase collaboration.