Saturday, 17 February 2018

Relatively Stable Genius Week 7: February 12-18 2018


“When you grow up, you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact. And that is Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.” - Steve Jobs


’Plastic Nigerians’?

How do folks feel about athletes representing countries at an Olympic Games, when they have little personal connection to them?

The term ‘Plastic Brit’ was popularized in the UK when a number of non-British born athletes, though often having no true established relationship with the UK,  switched their allegiance from their country of birth to the UK  seemingly in order to either have a clearer pathway to the Olympic Games, or greater monetary opportunities.  

Fair enough …

However, on the flip … it’s one thing if you live in the country, have established residency, perhaps married, and have had children (Mo Farah, for example, was born in Somalia, but can clearly support his ‘Britishness’ by the fact that he moved to Britain as a 6 year old, and has lived there ever since); it’s another thing entirely if the only reason you are applying for citizenship is that you want to go to an Olympic Games, and it is too difficult for you to do that from the country you currently live in, and are citizens of.  

This is the current state-of-play with a few athletes here in Pyeong Chang.  African and Caribbean athletes, for instance, are getting media interest far in excess of their abilities; the public - and therefore, the media outlets, are suckers for a story - and a Nigerian bobsled team article (“WOW!  Africans doing winter sport!!  How unusual!!”)  will garner far more clicks than, say, a skeleton slider from Wisconsin.

Forget for a second that these Nigerians live in the United States.  
And forget that the only difference between them and the Wisconsin skeleton-slider is that their heritage - and a loop-hole - will allow them availability to another Passport. 

Forget it - because that doesn’t fit into the narrative.  

Because today’s world is about NOVELTY, not QUALITY.

Better to stand out than to actually be good at something.  
(And trust me - the Nigerian bobsled team is NOT good at bobsled.  The Jamaican team on the other hand, is pretty decent.  ‘Jamaican’ pilot Jazmine Fenlator made the American team 4 years ago in Sochi, finishing 11th, with Lolo Jones as her brake-woman.  Still not Jamaican though …)

Part of this obsession is due to Cool Runnings. 

2010 American Olympic Gold Medalist Steve Mesler had this to say about Cool Runnings, arguing the counter-point to those who are derisive of it being the only reference to bobsled that 99% of folks seem to know:

‘Cool Runnings’ breathed life into an overpriced sport years ago and continues to be the best PR machine possible.

Sometimes I forget this. Then, when I least expect it, I'm reminded what Disney did for us all those years ago. In September of 2013 I was visiting a school in the middle of the San Jose slums in Costa Rica. Myself and the Executive Director from a foundation toured the school and then met with about 40 students. He translated everything I said and when it came time to describe bobsled to the 12-year-olds, their faces went blank. They knew Olympic gold, but not bobsled. Amidst the Spanish being spoken, all of a sudden I recognized two words that brought smiles, understanding, and amazement to the kids' faces. 

Those two words were ‘Cool Runnings’.”

So - maybe - the ends justify the means.  

Maybe by representing the country of their ancestors - however distant -, these Olympians will help to spread the ‘good part’ of the Olympic legacy to areas that is not possible for others.  

So go ahead - click on that story of the Ghana skeleton slider who grew up in Holland, and went to school in the US, but came last, by a large margin.  Go ahead and click on the story about the Nigerian team that will also be multiple SECONDS from the top 6.  

But also - please read, listen to, and watch the stories of those athletes who have actually dedicated the best part of their adult lives to elite sport (as opposed to participatory), those who have consistently competed around North America and Europe against the world’s best, in almost TOTAL obscurity - only for any chance at notoriety (and whatever trappings stem from it) to be stolen taken co-opted from them in the only moment in four years when anyone (media, public, sponsors) shows any propensity to care about them, by relatively participation part-timers, whose novelty outstrips their quality.

(Understand that I have no beef with any of the athletes who do this. They are simply taking natural advantage of a system that will benefit them if they behave in a certain way. If you can find a loophole in that system that will send you to an Olympic Games - and you can make a few dollars along the way - more power to you. Who among us would not do that? My beef is with the rules that allow for it.  And take a second to think about the athletes that were born and raised in a country, only to see any Olympic dreams dashed by a Federation that takes advantage of this loophole by recruiting in someone from overseas who has a local grandmother.  And the flip on the Nigerian team is their  suposed higher motivations: "This is something that will help the sport, something that will help women, the country, the continent."Seun Adigun, Nigerian Bobsled Pilot).

I guess what it really comes down to is more meta:  what is the point of the Olympic Games?  

Is this the point?  - 2nd, 3rd, & 4thDFL welcoming DFL across the line


Olympic Games Analogy:

There are two types of people on this earth.  

Those who go for the jacket, and those who go for the medal.  

Go for the jacket, and you're just happy to be there; happy to drift along, and enjoy yourself along the way.  

Go for the medal, and you have a purpose.  You don't settle; you're there to do a job, and you understand sometimes greatness (in sport, and in life) comes at the expense of comfort. 


On skill acquisition:

  • Skill acquisition is not the same as skill refinement
  • Before embarking on a technical change, be SURE that the change you seek is not just for the sake of fitting the technical model into your pre-existing norm-based understanding of what you think it should look like
  • It takes 6-7 months minimum to change a technique, and up to 12 months to stabilize it in various conditions
  • Athletes do not need to think about movements that are well-embedded
  • Don’t expect every athlete to communicate in the same way that we do: just because athletes don’t think in the same manner as the coach, does not mean that there is no thinking going on at all - ‘thinking’ may be lower level,  in a more meaningful language to each individual - i.e. rhythmical, auditory, feel, etc. 
  • Coaches need to do a better job of finding the athletes’ unique ‘language’ - plugging into their representations of what we say
  • An expert is mostly consciously aware only of a feeling – a feeling of ‘tension’, perhaps - or a sense of deviation from an optimum

“In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.” - Galileo

Want to think more like a scientist?  
Three key objectives:

  1. Be more humble about what you know, 
  2. Be more confident about what is possible, and 
  3. Be less afraid of things that don’t matter.
- Tim Urban

“Education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know” - Daniel Boorstin

"Mediocre people don’t like high achievers and high achievers don’t like mediocre people" - Nick Saban 

entrainment = meta-stability 

Meta-stability: "simultaneous realisation of two competing tendencies: the tendency of the components to couple together and the tendency for the components to express their intrinsic independent behaviour" - Kelso

“Strength is not a primary factor in reducing injury risk” - Tony Shield
(Dr. Shield being controversial here!  DISCUSS!)

“Getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.” - Steve Jobs


I have written about classification systems before.  So I am not going to rehash my thoughts here - just know that I think it is important.

There are many ways to classify athletes.  

For example - force-dominant versus velocity-dominant, single-leg dominant versus double-leg dominant, and everyone’s favorite - pusher versus puller.

Understand that all of these classifications exist on a continuum.  No one resides on the strict far end of these lines, but classifying athletes as to where they fit on these continuums can make coach’s decision a little easier.  

Here is my super-sciency example:

One categorization continuum we are currently employing is ‘fascially-driven’ versus ‘muscularly-driven’.  

Here is how we define that:

Fascial >>> Muscular

Horses can be classified into two major groups: light horses, and heavy horses - also called draft horses (a third type - the pony - is believed to have evolved from the light horse).  Different types of horses have been bred for different types of jobs; light horses - of which the Thoroughbred is perhaps the most famous - were bred for speed, agility, endurance, and for riding.  Heavy horses were bred for pulling or carrying loads.  The Clydesdale is perhaps the most well-known heavy horse.  

Coach Dan Pfaff has often used this classification for sprinters: on one end of the continuum, you have the swift Thoroughbred; while on the other, you have the powerful Clydesdale.  We have begun to further elucidate the differences between these types by their unique movement solutions.  

The ‘Thoroughbred’ has perhaps a more sophisticated ‘communication’ pathway; whereby, the timing of their limbs, the fluidity of their movements, and the reflexiveness of their ground contact is superior.  Perhaps it can be theorized that these athletes have a greater capacity to use their fascial system: i.e. movement is more ‘connected’ - lacking great muscular power, they rely instead on greater efficiency of movement.  We can perhaps term the athletes at this end of the continuum ‘fascially-driven’.  

The ‘Clydesdale’, on the other hand, has an entirely different movement solution.  These athletes are generally stronger, more powerful, and more muscular.  They rely predominantly on the amount of force they apply into the ground, and ordinarily require greater amounts of time to apply this force than their thoroughbred counterparts. The optimization of their movement solutions necessitates that these athletes maximize their force-producing abilities.  We can term the athletes at this end of the continuum ‘muscularly-driven’.  

Once we have an understanding of where athletes lie in any of these classification systems, we can better organize their training plans.  We personally tend to train towards an athlete’s strengths; we will identify appropriate times in a year to fill in ‘weakness gaps’, but when we want the athlete feeling fast, we need them to be doing things they are good at, in a way that they are comfortable with, and speaking to them in ways that makes sense to their individual classification.  As it relates to the ALTIS Key Words, in the above example, the ‘fascially-driven’ athlete will have superior rhythm, timing, and elevation; while we will train towards pressure and power for the ‘muscularly-driven’ athlete.

Speaking today with Jeremy Sheppard - SSSM Lead / S&C Coach for Canada Snowboard, and he offered this alternative (unknowingly) to fascial v muscular: neurogenic versus myogenic.

A reminder of my KEY WORDS of sprinting:

  1. pressure
  2. rhythm
  3. timing
  4. shape
  5. elevation
  6. power
  7. peace


Perception-Action Podcast
Rob Gray podcast on Bernstein

The only thing available for imprinting is wrong clumsy movement. 

If motor learning was memorizing one solution, where do we get the right solution in the first place. 

The essence of repetition without repetition: Not the means to the problem but the process of the solution; the changing and improving of the means. 

What we learn: How to solve movement problems. 

Movement not completely random and variable:  Consistency is in the solutions. Different athletes have their own signature solutions. 

Coordinative structures (muscle linkage): means of solving DOF problem. Group of muscles spanning several joints that are constrained to act as a single unit. 

Equation of constraint - sum of forces must equal zero

According to Latash - we’ve been thinking of the DOF problem incorrectly. The ‘bliss of motor abundance’. Multiple DOFs is not a design flaw

  • Abundance allows us to solve the task successfully even when ideal solution is blocked from us for some reason
  • Abundance creates good variability in movement  - similar to null-space variability.  Allows us to perform secondary tasks  and deal with unexpected perturbations in the environment 

According to Latash - Key in motor learning is creating functional links - synergies in DOF in a manner that increases good variability. 

Uncontrolled manifold hypothesis for motor control 

  • Good versus bad variability 

How to scale this to complex tasks?

Bernstein didn’t focus on perception - that had to wait until Gibson

Coach take home: Motor learning is not about memorizing a solution but learning how to solve problems. 

In reference to the UCM hypothesis: work to reduce the bad variability that takes the movement away from the task goal, but let the good variability be.

Re the UCM - from my notes on Toward a New Theory of Motor Synergies - Latash, et al 2007

“While most research in motor control has focused primarily on the average performance over trials, investigators of rhythmic movement coordination have found that the variance of performance is an equally fundamental measure. This was based on the notion that movement patterns emerge as stable states from the coupling of DOFs. This approach, invoking terms like “coordinative structures” (Easton, 1978; Turvey, 1990) or “dynamical patterns” (Schöner & Kelso, 1988), builds on the language of dynamical systems theory, in which “stability” is the capacity of a pattern to resist internal or external perturbations (sometimes addressed as “noise”). The variability from trial to trial or, in rhythmic movement, from cycle to cycle, is therefore one of several possible measures of stability … Scholz and Schöner (1999) developed a technical procedure, the method of the “uncontrolled manifold” (UCM), for testing whether trial-to-trial variability of elemental variables shows a structure interpretable as stabilizing particular performance variables. The method and approach have been refined and elaborated over the past several years as a result of experimental studies of a number of functional tasks (Scholz & Schöner, 1999; Scholz et al., 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003; Latash et al., 2001, 2002b; Tseng et al., 2002, 2003; Krishnamoorthy et al., 2003b, 2004; Domkin et al., 2002; Yang & Scholz, 2005; Kang et al., 2004). Here we propose that the structure discovered in the variance of multi-DOF systems using the UCM approach reflects the stability/flexibility feature of synergies. The UCM method may therefore be used to characterize that feature quantitatively.”

FYI - this is a classic paper.  Read it!

"The thing you really want to look closely for is unjustified certainty. Where in life do you feel so right about something that it doesn’t qualify as a hypothesis or even a theory, but it feels like a proof? When there’s proof-level certainty, it means either there’s some serious concrete and verified data underneath it—or it’s faith-based dogma." - Tim Urban, Wait but Why


"The success of any strength and conditioning program relies heavily on tremendous interdependencies. You can't look at one piece of the training puzzle without also considering the rest. Success never happens in isolation, and it rarely happens by accident." - Eric Cressey 

This is the issue within most silo systems; when we separate sports medicine, from sport science, from sport nutrition, from sport psychology, from sport mechanics, etc. - when the left-hand doesn’t know what the right-hand is doing - how can we expect optimal performance?  

This was my first lesson from Coach Pfaff back in 1995: the coach has to be a generalist; the athletes is a complex system, involving many moving parts - to best coach, we need not necessarily have expert understanding of all the parts, but at least a basic appreciation of the complexity, the interactions, and the context.  How Coach Pfaff explained it was that there are multiple planets spinning in space - our job is to keep them all up there - <<JUGGLING>> - to understand when one is slowing down its rotation, and to intervene appropriately - without dropping any.  

The typical amateur sports Federation or professional team is basically the exact opposite of the above.


This is currently how I am defining rhythm and timing, as they relate to sports performance:

Rhythm is a holistic ability that refers to either the coordination of the entirety of an acyclical skill (lets say - baseball pitching) or more than one successive repetition of a part of a cyclical skill (say - two or more successive sprint strides); whereas timing is the coordination of a single part of each of them (pitching - the timing of the whip of the arm; sprinting - the timing of the lower leg ‘strike’ into the ground).  Coordination common to them both.  

I ran the above by Professor Rob Gray from Arizona State University (host of the Perception-Action podcast, previously discussed).  His thoughts on the distinction between timing and rhythm:

“I have always thought about the distinction between timing and rhythm as following the distinction between discrete and continuous movements.  Timing is about getting the end effect to the right location at some discrete point in time, whereas rhythm is more concerned with coordination between multiple parts in a continuous movement.

Pretty much in-line with my definitions …

Rob sent me a few papers, including a super-interesting review of ‘discrete and rhythmic movements’ by Hogan and Starnad, 2007:

Considering rhythmic and discrete movements, three possibilities have been proposed (Dean 2001; Sternad et al. 2000; Buchanan et al. 2003; Schaal et al. 2004): 

  1. Discrete movements are fundamental, with rhythmic movements being concatenations of discrete movements; 
  2. Rhythmic movements are fundamental, with discrete movements being truncated rhythmic movements; 
  3. Rhythmic and discrete movements are two different and independent primitives. 

Intuitively, I lean towards number 2 above.  I look forward to delving in a little deeper into this research and coming up with a more reasoned opinion. 

Continuing on the rhythm discussion - I had a nice chat with former World Record Holder in the 500m Speedskating Jeremy Wotherspoon (here in Pyeong Chang, coaching the Norwegian team, as well as Canadian skater Gilmore Junio).  Though we couldn’t come to an agreement around the difference between rhythm and timing, Jeremy did communicate an interesting anecdote: 

JW, talking to an athlete he coaches one week after arriving in South Korea, referring to the loss of coordination for some time after traveling: “You looked better on the ice today - timing is back, you have better coordination”

Athlete: “Yes - I’m feeling way better on my guitar also”

That's interesting - assuming there is no such thing as ‘generalized, uncoupled’ transference of agility, balance, vision, etc. can we say the same for coordinative abilities, such as rhythm and timing?

Jeremy went on to state that “holistic movement is more like a watch.  The discrete movements as the gears/(complications?)  The lining up of gear cycles as the timing, with a watch, literally.”


An *interesting* interview with Quincy Jones, to say the least.  Much of it is just gossip, but some was actually interesting-revealing:

Q: Jazz is at the top of the hierarchy of music because the musicians learned everything they could about music. Every time I used to see Coltrane he’d have Nicolas Slonimsky’s book.

Yeah, he was famously obsessed with the Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns. That’s the one you’re talking about, right?

That’s right. You’re bringing up all the good subjects now! Everything that Coltrane ever played was in that thesaurus. In fact, right near the front of that book, there’s a 12-tone example — it’s “Giant Steps.” Everyone thinks Coltrane wrote that, he didn’t. It’s Slonimsky. That book started all the jazz guys improvising in 12-tone. Coltrane carried that book around till the pages fell off.

Is there innovation happening in modern pop music?  

Hell no. It’s just loops, beats, rhymes and hooks. What is there for me to learn from that? There ain’t no fucking songs. The song is the power; the singer is the messenger. The greatest singer in the world cannot save a bad song. I learned that 50 years ago, and it’s the single greatest lesson I ever learned as a producer. If you don’t have a great song, it doesn’t matter what else you put around it.

What was your greatest musical innovation?

Everything I’ve done.


Back in the 1990s, there was an unconscious abundance mind-set. Democratic capitalism provides the bounty. Prejudice gradually fades away. Growth and dynamism are our friends. The abundance mind-set is confident in the future, welcoming toward others. It sees win-win situations everywhere.

Today, after the financial crisis, the shrinking of the middle class, the partisan warfare, a scarcity mind-set is dominant: Resources are limited. The world is dangerous. Group conflict is inevitable. It’s us versus them. If they win, we’re ruined, therefore, let’s stick with our tribe. The ends justify the means.

The shift in mentalities seems like a shift in philosophy. But it’s really a shift from a philosophy to an anti-philosophy. The scarcity mind-set is an acid that destroys every belief system it touches.

… the style of politics that Trump’s scarcity mind-set demands has been a disaster for conservative governance. He insists on perpetual warfare — against all comers. Stuck fighting his wars with him, Republican politicians have had to say goodbye to most of the pillars of conservatism: rule of law, fiscal discipline, global engagement, moral decency, the idea that people should be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.

In theory, the G.O.P. restrictionist position on immigration is perfectly legitimate. But Trump has fatally entwined it with his constant race baiting. Republican politicians could have denounced the race baiting but remained silent. They allowed themselves to become fellow travelers to bigotry, and spoiled their own cause.

Under the influence of this mentality, evangelicalism turns from a faith into a siege-mentality interest group that reveres a pagan immoralist.

The scarcity mentality always ends up eating the host philosophy because it operates on a more fundamental level of the psyche.

All of this would be survivable if the mentality was going away in a few years. But it is not going away. The underlying conditions of scarcity are only going to get worse. Moreover, the warrior mentality builds on itself. As the right pulverizes the left, the left feels the need to pulverize back, and on and on. This is a generational challenge. Trump will be succeeded by some other warrior.

The scarcity mentality is eventually incompatible with the philosophies that have come down through the centuries. Decent liberals and conservatives will eventually decide they need to break from it structurally. They will realize it’s time to start something new.

Responding to the above, Naval Ravikant went on an excellent Twitter rant-thread: 

The two party system is an emergent "bug" in representative democracy. 

A Political party is a coalition to monopolize the vote.

The framers of the constitution neglected to ban political parties, as it would infringe upon freedom of speech. So political parties monopolized the vote.

It is the nature of a winner-take-all system to consolidate down to two entities.

Any third-place party can always combine with the second-place party to become the new first-place party.

Therefore, our system can only represent two choices on any given topic.

The parties want to get as many voters as possible. The majority of voters are apathetic, not even playing the political game.

Scale effects rule the world around me. Including when it comes to branding, spreading messages, rallying resources.

The parties have to brand strongly as strongly as possible, to create the faithful core and to hook the apathetic. To make them play the game.

The two parties then are under selective pressure to evolve as far apart. If they drift towards the other party, then they risk creating apathy when they want passion. 

Therefore, there’s no "middle ground party" in politics.

When you're on completely opposite sides of an issue, it's even easier to just talk about two different issues and call them the same thing.

On immigration, one party is talking about legal immigrants while the other party is talking about illegal immigrants.

On abortion, one party is talking about the definition of life while the other party is talking about self-sovereignty.

On guns, one party is talking about mass-murder while the opposite party is now talking about self-sovereignty.

On health care, one party is talking about minimal human decency while the other party doesn't want health care run by the DMV.

And neither one wants to talk about endless wars, mass surveillance, university costs, infinite debt, over-classification, and corruption.

Looking for someone to blame for polarization? There’s no one to blame. The system is the problem.

Looking for someone to blame for consolidation of power? There's no one to blame. That's just how power works

Democracy survives at the margin - the most powerful voter is the rational Independent whose vote isn’t promised to anyone.

Both parties take extreme positions, speaking a different language. When the normally apathetic middle bothers to vote, it wins.

When the country swings too far to the right, you get Obama. Too far to the left, you get Trump. Too far to the Trump and...?

The Internet provides the means to coordinate a vote for a third party.

Voters can pledge their vote to a third party candidate, keep track of pledges, and only cast their vote when the candidate has the desired threshold. If not, vote for your normal big party candidates.

(This system is however vulnerable to sybil attacks and fake pledges).

The presidency used to be part of the two party system. But media splintered and political ads don’t work like they used to. Social media + crowdfunding means that the Presidency is the first office where independents and outsiders have a shot.

As @nntaleb showed, the most intolerant minority can win. But its intolerance must be for political parties, party platforms and their soldiers. Assess each candidate on their own merits.

But who has the time? Everyone is busy. You’re either bought into a party brand or apathy. Or you’re spending enormous personal time for tiny social gains.

That trade off mainly makes sense at a local level. If most spending was local, it would be a different equation. 

But power continues to coalesce in central authorities.

The long arc of politics bends towards centralization. And no internal revolution is possible when the system is (accidentally) designed for two parties only.

The freer societies of the last few hundred years were founded through escape. Found a new colony or kingdom.

But physical space is gone. They’ve carved it all up, from Antarctica to the moon.

The future revolution will be digital. 


Save your ‘thoughts and prayers’ ... seriously. 
What good is it doing? 

“Only in America is this a regular thing. We will perform our shock, yell, pray, mourn ritual and move on with nothing changed and repeat the ritual after the next major shooting.” - NYT Columnist, Charles M Blow

And Blow on Twitter: 

How this is going to go:

America: Outrage, sadness
NRA: Complete silence
NRA supporter in DC: Thoughts and prayers
WH: Statement of grief, praise 1st responders
Media: Lamentations, coverage of funerals, candlelight vigils

Adds up to: Nothing changes

This is an incredible read, by Eli Saslow:

“It sometimes felt to Mark in these moments like his grief was still deepening, like the worst was yet to come. After the gunfire, the funerals, the NRA protests and the congressional debates, they were finally coming into the lonely quiet. They were coming to the truth of what Newtown would become. Would it be the transformative moment in American gun policy that, in those first days, so many had promised? Or another Columbine, Virginia Tech, Gabby Giffords, Aurora — one more proper noun added to an ever-growing list?”

If Trump thinks that mental illness is to blame for mass shootings on American, then why did he revoke gun-checks for those with mental illness?!


Power concedes nothing without a demand.  If there is no struggle, there is no progress. It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. The American people have this to learn: that where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress them, neither person nor property is safe” - Frederick Douglass, whose birthday was Wednesday.