Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Rhomobile: An open mobile framework

Wouldn't it be nice to write for one mobile device but then be able to export it to many others too. Without any extra work. This is the constant goal of software development. The write once, deploy any where kind of scenario. 

Well I was just told about rhomobile and was happy to find that they provide some tools to do this. I can't say I've tried them but I'm really impressed with the current set of mobile devices, particularly the iphone and android and see myself developing something from them in the near future. My preference being Android.

If I could write something for android but still export it to the iphone and symbian phones I would be very impressed. The only things on my mind are whether there are many restrictions in place if you want to write something that works on all devices. Since essentially some devices and their operating systems are more advanced than others. 

Still this is worth knowing about and is exciting. Especially since it appears to be free.

edit 20090527 16:59
Just tried the on my means application written using this software and it's just terrible. Sadly the interface just didn't seem to work. I couldn't try the others out for various reasons so I can't give this a very favourable recview. Thought I'd google for other mobile frameworks and found there are a few out there.  Haven't tried them yet but I hope they're better. 

Pushing ourselves too far. Do we do irreparable harm?

Pushing ourselves too far. Do we do irreparable harm? has been re-produced at my new blog Cell Your Sole.

A common cause of irreparable cell damage seems to be when it's pushed too far. When a cell is pushed a little beyond it's limits it grows stronger when allowed to recover. Yet push them really far beyond their limits and there seems a threshold above which many cells sustain damage they can't fix.

This was implied in my previous article on training your skin against cancer. Chronic back problems also come from weak back muscles being made to support the weight of the upper body. This leads to scar tissue formation.

I thought of an explanation. Essentially it's about protecting the cells dna. As the cells blue print, dna represents its only record of how to fix itself. If this is damaged the cell has no hope of repair. Each cell has ways to protect its dna from damage but these cost the cell energy so the  strength of the defences has to be balanced against the perceived need for them.  Essentially the body is always adjusting to fit the current requirements at a cellular level.

So when a cell is pushed a little beyond its limits the chance of irreparable damage to the cells dna is limited. Yet when it's pushed far beyond its limits. Damage to the dna is almost inevitable. If the activity itself doesn't cause damage like the act of sun light hitting cell dna then the cell contents may be affected such that they cause damage. Like the indirect DNA damage mentioned in my article on Melanoma.

The lack of protection for the dna leaves the cell vulnerable to viruses and other organisms that may take over the cell by injecting their dna into the cell dna. At best the cell doesn't work as well. At worst the cell becomes an aggressive cancer. As usual this is my theory. I'll see if it bears out. It does imply that it's dangerous to push our cells too far and that building up our tolerance to things is always important. I have a feeling that this can also explain the development of allergies in some way. 

It seems natural to think that the ageing process may be accelerated by the kind of DNA damage I've just talked about. So training the cells of our body to protect their DNA could in fact slow down the ageing process.  Atleast, that's the theory.

We'll see. 

Football: Italians need new style

It's interesting to hear the views of an England manager criticising the playing style and mentality of his homeland.

Reading the article Italians need new style from the bbc news web site it's interesting to see that maybe Fabio agrees more with the English way of playing than the continental. Whether this view is because he is England manager and it's in his interests to promote acceptance of the way we approach the game or whether this is a view he holds personally as well is not clear. 

It is clear though that our ambitions in Europe are often limited because all our players play the game under different rules than the rest of europe in terms of how physical the game is. Tackles that are allowed in the English game are simply not allowed in the continental. I feel that had an impact when beckham was sent off at France '98 (He may have been given a yellow card in the premiership) and it's definitely cost us goals because our players man handle the keeper in a way that's not accepted on the continent. 

Whether the Italians should be more physical or the Premiership should tolerate less physicality is for football to decide. What I do believe is that those sides who can adapt to best to the way the referees enforce the game at a european or world level are the ones best positioned to triumph. In this regard I'm not certain our premiership provides this base. It always seems that little bit different to the rest of the world. and while english clubs are doing very well on a European and world stage I think it's as much down to the foreign players as the native. 

Anyway that's my two cents.

Sakai: What this teaching tool does

Developing with Moodle as I do in my day job I get to see how useful these learning management systems are becoming. I also see the limitations that are inherent in their specific design. Just like any product or company, software always has strengths and weakness. 

For some reason I decided to have a look at the opposition. I'd always known they were there but hadn't bothered. Well today I checked out Sakai and was very pleasantly surprised. I read a short wikipedia page, briefly checked out the website but in truth I wanted to see Sakai in action. I know how moodle works and it does the job well. So I wanted to see how it compares to Moodle. 

Funny thing is I didn't find a video showing it working but what I did find got me very interested in the tool and I thought it was worth sharing. Mainly it's the idea that Sakai is built with programming interfaces in mind from the bottom up and built to scale from its heart. Unfortunately this is something Moodle lacks and can become quite a problem at times. Whether this is the case in practice I'm yet to find out but I'm certainly interested and  inspired by what I saw. 

I also like the concept of community development they use and that collaboration and teamwork is built into the core of the application

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Can you train your skin to resist Melanoma

Can you train your skin to resist Melanoma has been re-produced at my new blog Cell Your Sole.

Just had an urge to understand Melanoma the most dangerous form of skin cancer. Not sure why just seemed like a good idea. Partly because I've been wondering what new developments there are in our knowledge and what trends are associated with this kind of cancer.

I'm glad I checked it out. Turns out that it's intermittent exposure to the sun that's the worst problem. This is reflected in most cases occurring in men on their backs and women on their legs. This fits in with what I've picked up over the years. 

Damage from the sun is something we've been exposed to for millenia so it's only natural to assume that we have in built defences to it. The strength of this defence, in my opinion, is likely to be down to how much we train it through exposure. What I mean is that people who work outside every day will be well prepared for the summer heat by their exposure during the spring. I assume the damage is relevated to the amount of protection you already have and so exposure during the spring when the sun isn't directly over head will build up some resistance and have a training effect on the skin. Every so often a day of prolonged sunshine will come along and many spend a long time in it. Those who already have some protection are just less likely to go over the threshold at which damage occurs. I believe it's effectively as simple as that. 

Much like training in sports protects us from the damaging effects of exercise. Repeated safe exposure to the sun protects us from the damage from intermittent intense exposure. 

Otherwise you'd expect people with bald heads to have the highest rates of melanoma because no matter what direction you walk the top of your head is always exposed to the sun, assuming you don't wear a hat. Since this isn't the case it suggest, it doesn't prove though, that a training effect may occur. 

I just wanted to mention this idea of a training effect and state the reasons I think it may exist because I think it could be a very useful way to limit the danger from this kind of cancer and from the sun itself in a natural way. It also implies that regular activity outside, exposing the parts of your skin you would normally expose, for me it's head, neck and forearms, is the best way to combat skin cancer yet it also help fight osteo porosis, diabetes and coronary heart disease all at the same time. So there's a lot to gain if it's got some truth in it. 

the article also hints that indirect DNA damage is the major cause of Melanoma. It strikes me that the body is likely to have natural methods to protect us from this problem and that through repeated safe exposure these methods would become well developed in our skin and thus it would be well trained and equipped at preventing the damage

Learn more about battling cancer through exercise

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

How do you train for large muscles?

It used to seem obvious. You trained for strength, you need more muscle for strength, you got big, you're happy. Experience tells me it's not as straight forward as that. You can be very strong but not very big. Because pure muscle size isn't the only reason some one is strong.  

I see a lot of people who say they want to be strong but really just want to look it. To have the large muscles. It fascinates me because I feel an understanding of this is key to understanding our bodies, their adaptation to exercise and the best training methods for sports and for life. 

Ok, sounds a bit far fetched I expect but stick with me. I've been noticing things for years and finally feel I have a simple way to explain what I see. 

Back when I trained for strength, yep many moons ago :-), I followed the standard 6-8 rep maximum lift kind of protocol. It worked well. I got very strong in the areas I trained but I didn't get very big compared to the strength I had. At one point during my time at uni I was working part time for a gym so could train for free any time I managed to lift around 165 Kg which equates to 26 stone in a squat. I couldn't believe it. My legs were and still are relatively small. Not like some of the rugby players I saw yet I could lift quite a lot. 

Any way it became apparent that strength isn't all about muscle size. Watching documentaries on people like Bruce lee and sports stars it becomes even more evident that this is true since the biggest feats of strength often come from some relatively ordinary looking people. 

So the question remains how and why do muscles get big and what are big muscles good at?
I can't say I have all the answers but I feel now it's got much more to do with strength and endurance training combined and particularly regular, preferably daily training so much that large muscles may in fact represent enhanced recovery from an intense training load. 

Ok, what does that mean in English. Well I noticed playing Fifa (a football game on many consoles) that the players legs are huge. They're like twice the width of the player. And footballers don't need strong legs. They need fast ones. Yet back in the 70's they didn't have legs this size so what's changed. Training methods, they're in the gym more, but also, particularly at the top level, they have to last the whole game. Some times 120 minutes plus penalties week in, week out. There's no real summer break cos they're off round the world playing in show tournaments and friendlies so they're always active. 

The point being I see no requirement whatsoever for strength. For power I see plenty of need but few sprinters seem to have huge legs. In fact their calves seem plain tiny considering they get up to 26 mph. So if power gave you big muscles I'd expect sprinters to be John Regis big atleast but they aren't.

What footballers have to be able to do is sprint the length of a football field several times in a game and be ready to receive the ball at the end of it, go round a few players, take a shot, then run back the length of the pitch to cover their position in defence. They do this time and time again and have to recover each time. I think it's this requirement that is the key. I think that the bodies solution to this demand requires a lot of kit that pads out muscles. 

So what would this mean?
First off it would mean more glycogen (glycogen is a carbohydrate) stored within the muscle right next to the fibres that need it. I don't know if glycogen is stored in muscle in one place but I'd expect it to be dotted around so it's more available when required. I'd also expect there to be a certain amount stored inside the muscle cell itself given the regular high turnover it must be prepared for. 

Where glycogen is stored, water must follow. For every gram of carbohyrdate around 5 grams of water is stored with it. Thus the cell voume would swell considerably. To sidetrack a little and understand how important water is in making cells both big and firm we only need to consider fruit and veg stored in the crisper in the fridge. The main difference between a fresh orange, apple or nectarine that's firm and one that's been around for a few weeks and is getting soft is that the older one is drying out. The individual cells are losing water so there is more give  in each cell. That's why they're soft. 

Think of this in a muscle and it would explain why some are really hard when tensed and others aren't. It could simply be that the hard muscles contain a lot of water and  which they need because they also contain a lot of glycogen. 

I'd expect there'd be other adaptations too and maybe these would contribute to a larger muscle size. More mitochondria perhaps. 

The implications I see is that this training effect is brought about because there's a need for regularly high intesity recovery. The training effect is every day, perhaps twice a day. And the body is adjusting to the training by finding ways to fix all the damage from activity within a day and not taking 2-3 days to recover. This implies that the whole body is quick to mobilise itself but it's also about recovery within a game. The difference between the top and bottom teams in many leagues is who still has plenty in the tank at the end of the game asnd season not at the start. 

So I feel that the adaptations we really care about in this context are those concerned with restoring the body within minutes and hours rather than days and weeks. I wonder whether these adaptations need larger cell 'machinery'.

I also wonder whether this implies a very different training strategy. After all the ability to recover in a very short while is a bonus to pretty much every one involved in sport. 

I also wonder whether the driver for a large muscle size could be the repeated, prolonged high intensity bursts within the sport. those where you cover a larger amount of distance, running back, forwards, sideways etc without much of a break. You push your energy supply right to its limit along with your systems ability to tolerate lactate build up. I've mentioned a lot about glut 4 and mscules ability to convert lactic acid back into glycogen quickly during sport so you can maintain intense acitvity for longer. I wonder if the ability to do this could make the cell larger. 

The focus on recovery also implies the ability to regenerate cells and fix damage over night or, potential,  during the day aty enhanced rates. This also implies a need to protect our DNA blueprints. If this holds true then it could be an important approach in preventing ageing and maintaing health. For if the way we train leads our body to preserve and protect our DNA then we should be better at fixing our body correctly instead of introducing unhealthy cells through bad DNA.

So in essence I feel a second benefit may come, though I have no proof, that this kind of training may in fact train our processes that use DNA to fix our body. it may provide the impetus to protect our DNA from damage and ultimately keep us healthy and strong in the long term. 

Friday, 15 May 2009

How does innovation flourish?

I have always wondered where you'd go if you had an idea that you think could help others that's also, in your mind, ahead of it's time. I just came across Nesta an organisation set up to help those with ideas that can help to get those ideas in place and working.

Thought it would be useful in time. I know the title of the post suggests lots more. Hopefully I'll add to this in time. Just wanted to put it up here now.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Lose weight and save on heating bills with brown fat!!!

It occurred to me that brown fat could be a way to burn extra calories during the day and save on heating bills.

Brown fat is a special kind of fat that doesn't just insulate but generates heat from the fat it stores.

I don't know exactly why Brown fat develops but it's an adaptation to cold climates and so those who stay in warm heated buildings during the winter would not develop any. I'm wondering if
turning the heating down a few degrees for a few weeks over winter would encourage growth of brown fat. If so then you could in effect be losing weight while sitting down.

Funnily enough no sooner had I googled brown fat and found the definition in wikipedia did I find that there's already a possible link between brown fat and weight loss. 

I love it when a plan comes together. :-)

Money often costs too much

Just read an Inspector Morse book 'Last seen wearing' and loved this little quote. 

Money often costs too much. 

Ralph waldo emerson

The more you think about it the more you realise the truths this simple sentence belies.

Learning and teaching is about humans first, technology second

I see a lot of discussions in an educational context about how best to design and develop systems to help people learn. My view is that any discussion on learning and teaching should, I feel, focus on the concepts of learning and teaching, students and teachers, learners and educators. These are human things, not technological.

The emphasis should always be that learning and teaching are entirely human processes and abilities in the realm of education. The technology we use today will probably be irrelevant tomorrow because it's evolving so fast, but the process and rules of learning and teaching will still be the same in years to come because humans aren't evolving so fast.

It's only our knowledge of how to maximise learning and teaching that's changing and we can make best use of this new knowledge even without the latest technology. You only have to see the hole in the wall experiments to believe this.

Coach tennis with a ball and frisbee

While playing a couple of games of tennis I chatted with the guy I was playing with who asked how he could teach his children to play tennis. His kids are quite young and might find it difficult to hold a full tennis racquet. They might also find it hard to work with a racquet at first. When I suggested just throwing a ball to mimic the service and smashing action he liked it. This is a common analogy used to teach tennis.

But how do we teach the fore and backhand shots and one and two hands etc. You can try it with a ball like people suggest but that's not how people normally throw a ball so it feels forced. Then An inspiration popped into my mind, these shots are the same as throwing a frizbee. When I compare the movements of my arms, shoulders, hips, legs etc from throwing a frisbee and hitting a fore hand backhand I could find that they were really simlar and that one would help the other. 

I could learn to throw the frisbee further and with less risk of injury in the same way I could learn it about a ground stroke. 

So now I can teach these basic skills with simple games. I can throw balls to practice overhead or underarm shots and use frisbees to practice groundstrokes.  If they throw to each other they can practise the catch and throw cycle of a groundstroke rally.  

If I could find a toy that I can use for both then I'm sorted

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Regular challenges for a healthy strong body

I've blogged before that I think training, both mental and physical, particularly intense training, creates a situation of scarcity for nutrients which provides stimulus for our bodies to improve their infrastructure to provide these nutrients. This is the training effect and keeps us healthy. Well I also just noticed that it works nicely with the idea that our body is continually looking to save on energy and nutrients.

The healthy body we maintain costs a lot in terms of energy and nutrients. Thus it makes sense that our bodies would constantly look to shed anything it doesn't need to survive. In the past that meant life or death. So in essence the body is continually stripping what is not essential. It judges what's essential in reference to what we do. So we can influence it.

Thus if you want a strong body that's fit for daily challenges you need to put your body through some challenges to encourage it to make itself strong.

Helping one application support many interfaces

These days it's really hard to make one application that supports all the interfaces it has to support from mash ups like Facebook to every kind of mobile device, mobile phones and net books included. And then there are offline and mobile users.

The only way I can see to reliably support so many potential users and interfaces is to provide one interface they can all use. Provide one set of interfaces to the world so that those that can't use the tools and user interface you do provide have the opportunity to build their own. 

Of course you can still develop rich user interfaces for things like the iPhone and Facebook you just use this new programming interface to your main application to make it all tie together nicely. If there's a user interface you don't provide you're no longer obliged to provide it as long as you've explained clearly how someone else could. 

So that's my view on how to support the growing problem of multiple user interfaces

Replicate the pressures of snooker whilst practising

Watching the world snooker final got me thinking about training methods for snooker. Particularly methods to replicate the pressures of competition in training when you don't have a training partner or want to simulate playing some one better than you. The pressure comes from your opponent capitalising on your mistakes so you need to replicate that. 

A simple cheap way to do this is with a dice or two. For each shot your opponent is supposed to take or to simulate a sequence of shots you roll the die. The score tells you what the opponent achieved. You remove the relevant balls and add the score. 

I haven't figured out all the rules I just like the idea of being able to replicate the pressure of competition. This way you don't know whether you will be punished for any mistake. Your opponent will never get nervous and never feel any pressure. 

So if you can deal with this then you will be better prepared for any match

Instincts: Could they be memories or actions passed down

I have been carrying in my head for a while this possible explanation for instincts and how they're passed on. Thought I'd better note it down. The premise being that DNA is a code much like computer code and so the principles used in passing information between computers may be relevant. 

The idea revolves around the concept of serializing information which means converting it into a form which can be recorded in some kind of code. In computers this can save your settings for your favourite program or provide a simple url you can share with your friends. I expect that our bodies naturally have the ability to do this with memories and this is where we begin. 

I believe the brain stores memories in cells or such like in such a way that it could be serialized. If the body did this then it is also possible that it also has the ability to include this memory in other cells in the body. It seems natural to assume that our bodies have the tools to edit their own genetic material. If so it also makes sense that they could alter the genes in the genes of sperm and possibly egg cells . 

If a memory of a snake biting you or a muscle memory of how to hide yourself could help your off spring. Then it seems likely that we would have evolved capabilities to allow this method of information transfer. It would also explain why some people claim to have memories from times past that they couldn't have been part of.

It turns out this idea isn't so far fetched. New research is appearing that demonstrates a real link between the environment an organism and its DNA, or these days its epigene. The idea is that epigenetic changes can occur in an orgamism that are passed on to its offspring.

Watching Professor Denis Noble give his lecture on Physiology and Evolution at about 28 minutes in he referenced Life at the interface between a dynamic environment and a fixed genome and explained how stroking a rat can marks its cells to predispose its offspring to that behaviour.

A quick google also unearthed Environmental programming of stress responses through DNA methylation: life at the interface between a dynamic environment and a fixed genome which concludes that 'structural modifications of the DNA can be established through environmental programming and that, in spite of the inherent stability of this epigenomic marker, it is dynamic and potentially reversible.'

The journal Nature recently showed that fearful memories haunt mouse descendants

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Recording meetings for reference. Is it possible? and is it practical?

I've long been looking for a tool that really can make a record of a meeting that is truly searchable. Where the content it records is usable without having to search painstakingly through to find what you want. I've found a paper by the Knowledge Media Institute (KMI) here at the OU called Memetics that is an attempt towards this.

It doesn't sound like a finished product and is not something that is available for the average person to use. But it does highlight that it's becoming possible and that there are people looking into the problem.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

An interview with the implementor of the SSL protocol

Just caught an interview with one of the guys who implemented the SSL prototocol (the feature that gives you a secure 'locked' image in your browser). It makes for interesting reading. Particularly how they made sure the protocol could adapt with the times without major changes. Just logging it here for future reference. 

Do active people benefit more from sleep?

I thing that struck me is the idea that training the body through activity may not just train our physical systems but could also train our recovery systems by creating situations where constant intense repair is required. This could have an impact on our overall health because our ability to repair our bodies would relate to our ability to recover from daily challenges.

I could imagine that those who are regularly active and by implication regularly train their body's recovery response would potentially beneift more from any given amount of sleep. Given the busy lives many of us lead and the impact it can easily have in shortening or reducing the quality of our sleep. I could easily envisage a situation where those who are more active and thus fitter and more able to recover could maintain themselves much better on reduced amounts of sleep than those who are less fit.

It's just a theory but when I think of the adaptations our bodies make after physical training it seems each would make restoring the body much easier. I don't have time to pursue this idea now but thought I'd log it to pursue later.

I also wonder whether this ability to recover could have big implications for body shape and weight. Whether the centres of our brain regulate themselves better when we're active and recover better. Again this is just a theory but would explain a little why simply managing calories helps some people lose weight and not others.