Sunday, 25 March 2018

Very Stable Idiot Week 12: March 19-25 2018


The two things most opposed to good planning are ‘haste and anger’ - Diodotus


Can we please stop saying that ’speed is a skill’?

It most definitely is not.

The specific ability to run fast may be a skill (or, more correctly, may require some level of skillfulness), but speed - as defined by the distance traveled per unit of time - is not.  Speed is a scalar quantity that defines how fast an object is moving; distinct from velocity - which is a vector quantity, presupposing a direction.  

Simply - speed is about magnitude; while velocity is about magnitude and direction. 

Neither is a skill.  

So let’s stop saying they are. 


Another word or two on Performance Therapy

With the horsepower that many of the athletes I work with have, I am simply not comfortable throwing them on the track without a clear understanding of the current state of their dynamic system.  

There are many ways to do this - i.e subjective feedback, pre-responded questionnaires, objective pre-session monitoring, etc -, but if we don’t get our hands on them, we are potentially missing out on information that could be very important to how we progress the training session.  

Many - and perhaps even most - coaches at the elite level now have an idea of what their objective for a training session is for each day, and have probably scripted something precise, but are open to the possibility that they may have to change the details of the session based on how the athlete shows up.  

Athlete feedback on the current state of readiness of their musculo-skeletal system is important information when adapting a session.  

Coach, or therapist, feedback is just as important. 

“Fear and anxiety over time transmutes into anger”

“Politics is (supposed to be) about advancing the human good”

- Peter Wehner on The Axe Files


It’s not necessarily change that people are uncomfortable with; it is the rate of that change.

Change happens - history proceeds: I think people generally accept this.  

But change has traditionally happened at rates where we may not even be that aware of it, until one morning we wake up, and “HEY - that thing over there that I used to really like - it’s changed!”  But because the rate of change was such that we weren’t really aware of it, it wasn’t really a big deal.  We just shrug and move along.  

Essentially - it’s the difference between evolution and revolution.

Evolution develops over the course of time, whereas revolution is spontaneous - immediate - aggressive

Evolution means ‘unfolding’; it is a story - a narrative of how things change over time. 

Matt Ridley discusses this in his recent book … from the prologue:

"The way in which these streams of human culture flow is gradual incremental undirected emergent and driven by natural selection among competing ideas.  He argues that the human need for top-down ‘reason’ is often just that - our need, and that it is not how our world - and systems within it - has evolved.  We place too much emphasis on planning and design, and not enough on natural evolution of things." 

Paraphrasing Taleb:  in a complex world the very notion of ‘cause’ is suspect: ‘another reason to ignore newspapers with the constant supply of causes for things’. 

“In society people are the victims and even the immediate agents of change but more often than not the causes are elsewhere - they are emergent collective inexorable forces. The most powerful of inexorable forces is biological evolution by natural selection itself but there are other simpler forms of evolutionary unplanned change. “ - Ridley

I’m watching this documentary on Netflix right now - Wild Wild Country, about a huge group of folk that purchased land, and moved to Oregon in the early 1980s in order to build - from scratch - their own utopian city.  Overnight, the neighboring small town of Antelope - and it’s 40 inhabitants - changed.  


It’s a fascinating look into not only a wonderfully weird cult but also how uncomfortable we are when the rate of change outstrips our expectations.  

I find myself vacillating between supporting the 40 mostly retiree townsfolk and the bunch of crazies that have moved in next door.

“Wild Wild Country doesn’t hold back on the crimes of the Rajneesh, but it presents their movement from enough angles that you are left to decide for yourself if it was a New Age utopia destroyed by corruption or a brainwashed cult that operated as a massive criminal enterprise. At the same time, it’s hard to feel much sympathy for the residents of the nearby towns who appear openly bigoted in both the archival footage and present-day interviews. Long before Sheela’s crimes, the conservative Christian residents threatened them with guns, hung posters that say “Not Wanted Dead or Alive,” and bombed the Rajneeshee hotel. You’re left feeling like it was a strange, sad affair all around.” - Lincoln Michel 

Think about this next time you start coaching an athlete who comes from a vastly different program than yours.  

Think about their comfort level with the program they are coming from - and how this may affect your own programming going forward.

There are a lot of questions to ask here … let’s be sure we ask them.  

Just throwing them into the deep end is a sure recipe for disaster.  

Cycle #9 for British sprinter Jodie Williams

A nice read from Dave Gray that shares some ‘organizational paradoxes’ he is collecting for inclusion into his new book.  Some examples:

… an organization must have a way to attract and retain members, or it will cease to exist. At the same time it must constrain people’s behavior, or it won’t be able to get anything done. This means any organization has the oxymoronic goal of being an attractive prison.

The more you coordinate and communicate about work, the less you get done.

Time is finite. The more time you spend coordinating your efforts, the less time you have to do the actual work. 

The more you do, the less you can do.

As you take on more jobs and tasks, your overall workload increases, which means you have less time to spend on each job. Not only that, you need to spend more time coordinating and switching between tasks, leaving you even less time to do each one.

The reward for doing good work is more work.

Do a great job at work and you’ll be rewarded with more projects. Do a poor job and you’ll get less work. Be agreeable and people will ask you to do more. Be difficult and disagreeable and people will leave you alone.

“The Peter principle is a concept in management theory formulated by educator Laurence J. Peter and published in 1969. It states that the selection of a candidate for a position is based on the candidate's performance in their current role, rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role. Thus, employees only stop being promoted once they can no longer perform effectively, and "managers rise to the level of their incompetence".

The less money you have, the more you can innovate.

We tend to think that bigger is better when it comes to budgets. But the fact is that the greatest innovations have been launched by people with scarce resources.

Scarcity drives creativity. Big money kills it.

If you think that true periodization happens in the real world - you are either not working in sport, or you’re not paying enough attention.

You think you’re doing something special by prescribing 77.5% one week, and 82.5% the next?  

Gimme a break

"Despite having an extensively documented poor track record in planning and predictive tasks, simultaneously we have a demonstrated tendency to be over-confident in these pursuits" -  John Kiely


“Networks can be *extremely* valuable. But only when authentic—people connected through common interests and experiences who really CARE about their pursuit and really CARE about each other … Networking for the sake of networking is one of the dumbest advents of recent times.”Brad Stulberg

- Nick Heil

Full disclosure: I was a Bulletproof ‘ambassador' back in 2013 / 2014.  At the time, Bulletproof founder Dave Asprey wasn’t doing a heck of a lot more than toting his Bulletproof coffee, and selling a few supplements on his website.  I actually enjoyed the morning coffee with grass-fed butter and MCT oil, and when I got an email from someone at Bulletproof asking if I wanted to be an Ambassador, I duly accepted.  This meant - for $300/month in free product, I would have to shoot out a social media post once in a while.  Pretty good deal, I thought - as whilst I wasn’t necessarily comfortable with what Asprey was beginning to communicate (his straw man mycotoxin argument, for instance), his motives seemed to be sincere.  

Fast forward 12 months, and I was increasingly uncomfortable with his message - and his madness (the ridiculous glasses and the $10 markup on insulated coffee canisters, for example); to the point where I no longer posted on their behalf, and let my ‘ambassadorship’ run out (even though - to be honest - I found their supplement products to be of pretty high quality - and feel that they probably still are).

What I was most uncomfortable with though, was the same reason I was turned off by the messaging from Tim Ferriss - the supposed promise of a shortcut to health, wealth, success, whatever …. The ‘hacking’ movement had become a full-blown fad, reliant upon pushing pseudo-scientific gobbledegook to an increasingly gullible general public. 

I encourage you to read the review of Bulletproof and Asprey that Steve Magness’ wrote on his blog back in 2014.  This week, Magness posted a Twitter primer for those not familiar, in response to a recent article n Outside Magazine, by Nick Heil.   

Heil closes with what is truly the definition of being healthy. 

“… a lot of what passed for health and fitness now was just an attempt to synthesize what humans have done for eons: move around outside, sometimes intensely; eat food from the earth; sleep a lot; hold on to each other. Were we just trying to hack our way back to nature? If technology had gotten us into this mess, was it going to bail us out?”

And that’s all you need to know about that …

“War is a violent teacher, and brings most men's passions to the same level as their circumstances.” - Thucydides

One of the dominant themes running through his text is the notion that human beings are motivated primarily by three factors: 

  1. fear, 
  2. honor and 
  3. self-interest

Don’t forget the trunk

I’m more interested in the leaves (aren’t we all?) …

But I must remember to go back to the trunk from time to time

Dan Pontefract , on the metaphor of the ‘Giant Sequoia’:

General Sherman (a 2300-year-old, 83m high tree in the Sequoia National Park in California) is made up of three key elements:

  • Roots (becoming attributes)
  • Trunk (being attributes)
  • Branches and foliage (going beyond attributes)

“Let’s investigate the true strength of the tree; the trunk.

The trunk provides the power in which to cast both depth and breadth of a tree’s span, to equally achieve success and beauty. Like General Sherman, the core of the tree provides the nutrients and foundation that helps one to grow and to reach new heights. Without it, stunted growth is assured and a mediocre if not futile leadership example will manifest.”

Media & Writing

What led to the current state of the media?

An argument can be made that, while things were going this way anyway, Gawker Media - and it’s founder-CEO Nick Denton - did the most ‘damage’.  

Ryan Holiday’s new book details Peter Thiel’s decade-long endeavor to put Gawker out of business (motivated by Denton's website ‘outing’ Thiel in 2007).  Thiel is not the most likable character, and you can argue about his ethics throughout this ‘conspiracy’ - but it’s even harder to respect the ‘journalism’ of Gawker.  

From Holiday's book:  

In the first year that this conspiracy is picking up steam, Gawker Media would post something like 100,000 articles across its eight sites. Almost none of these pieces see an editor before they go live. In 2012 alone, Gawker would find itself the recipient of multiple leaks of celebrity photos, it would unmask a famous internet troll, it would go after politicians, break technology news, publish controversial first-person essays, repeat gossip, and antagonize the sports world. Most of its posts were ephemeral, simple aggregation of the news and trends of the day. Not all, though.

He had designed Gawker to have an insatiable maw — tying it to the limitless appetite for content of the internet. It was founded, remember, by paying writers for each morsel they dropped into it, not how nutritious each morsel was. As technology improved, Gawker simply switched to paying by the page view and then later shifted to unique views — essentially paying by the calorie instead of the crumb.

Journalism (and writing in general) should be held to a higher standard. 

If you have a platform, then you have a responsibility to produce content that is not deliberately malicious, false, exaggerated, and self-serving.  I would even argue that you have a responsibility to ensure your motivation is true.  It’s too easy to fool people into buying anything these days.  The only way around this is if those producing content hold themselves to a higher standard.  

Problem is:

- Michael J. Socolow

We have a serious problem, and it goes far beyond “fake news.” Too many Americans have no idea how to properly read a social media feed. As we’re coming to learn more and more, such ignorance seems to be plaguing almost everybody — regardless of educational attainment, economic class, age, race, political affiliation or gender.

With that in mind, here are three easy steps each of us can take to help build a better civic polity.

Some very smart people are helping to spread some very dumb ideas.

  1. No link? Not news! Every time somebody tweets “BREAKING” a little bell should go off in your head. Before you even read the rest of the news, look for the link. 
  2. I knew it! If breaking news on social media aligns perfectly with your carefully structured view of the world, then pause before liking it or retweeting it. Why? Because you — like most of us — have curated a personal news feed to confirm things you already suspected or “knew.” 
  3. Why am I talking? My wife is a psychotherapist, and occasionally I skim her Psychotherapy Networker magazine. I read a piece by a therapist who realized his most effective communicative moments often occurred when he asked himself a simple question: “Why am I talking?” Inevitably this question shut him up and allowed him to absorb much more information. “Why am I talking” works out to a great acronym: WAIT. If we all just asked ourselves this simple question immediately before posting or retweeting, we’d all be better off. 

Most of us form our opinions based upon tribalism, and not idelogy



SNR #143: Keith Baar, PhD – Tendon Stiffness, Collagen Production & Gelatin for Performance & Injury

I’m not sure how I happened upon this podcast - I have always enjoyed Keith Baar’s thoughts on Twitter, and have communicated with him a little over the last couple of years, and somehow found upon a pod I have never heard about before: Sigma Nutrition Radio, hosted by Danny Lemon.  

This was an excellent episode and included a good overview of the research Dr. Baar has been undertaking over the last few years.  

A couple of highlights:

On stiffness:

“… when we talk about the musculoskeletal or a muscle-tendon-bone system. We've got the extracellular matrix within the muscle, and then we've got the extracellular matrix within the tendon. So what you can do is you can do exercise that's going to increase the stiffness of the extracellular matrix of the muscle, but it could also at the same time decrease the stiffness of the connective tissue within the tendon, and the reverse is true and all of the different combinations are true. So what you're looking to do is as you train or as you do other things that are going to improve muscle function is you're looking for the connective tissue within your muscle to become stiffer and better able to transmit force and you're looking for your tendon to also become somewhat stiffer and to be better able to transmit force. If you're only training with fast movements, and fast movements are specifically important for the tendon stiffness, the faster your movement is the more your tendon is going to become stiffer over time with training; the slower your movement is the less stiff your tendon is going to be over time. 

… slow lengthening contractions increase the shear within the collagen and the tendon and that decreases the overall stiffness of the tendon. If you only do fast movements and you continue to increase the stiffness of the tendon and you're not doing anything to really strengthen your muscle, what’s going to happen is your tendon is going to become stiffer than your muscle is strong, and what that means is when you hit the ground at full speed, instead of what should happen which is the tendon lengthens a little bit and acts as a shock absorber for your muscle, if your tendon is stiffer than your muscle is strong, then what happens is the tendon is so stiff that it doesn’t extend upon impact and instead of your tendon extending your muscle has to extend even though it is fully contracting. So it's maximally activating and it's trying to shorten, but because the tendon is so stiff it now has to lengthen abruptly, and that's where severe muscle injuries occur.”

On supplementation:

“… what we started considering was the idea that gelatins or bone broths would be really beneficial as a way to improve connective tissue function, improve return to play or accelerate people’s return to play after an injury. 

… the amino acids are going to peak within the blood at about an hour after the consumption of the supplement. We then take a large amount of blood at one hour and we put it into our engineered ligament model just to see whether the blood from a person taken before they’ve taken the gelatin or after they’ve taken the gelatin, can we see any difference in the function of the ligaments that we get from these? And sure enough, what we see is that if you make the ligament and you feed it media that contains the serum of the people after they’ve had the gelatin supplement, you get more collagen in a step-wise response, whereas at the 5 grams of gelatin you get more collagen than the placebo and at the 15 you get more collagen than you do at either the 5 or the placebo group. And then what we look at is we look at the mechanics and sure enough, the mechanics are improved. They are stronger. They're stiffer than they were without the supplement.”

On preventative exercise-supplementation:

“There are huge numbers of runners who get stress fractures or who get all of these other basically mechanical-fatigue- related injuries. What we do in this situation is we just do exactly what we do for the rehab except we're not doing it as frequently. So if I know that I have an athlete who’s going to be practicing in the afternoon, I have them get up, I feed them gelatin, and then I'm going to have them do an exercise bout that's going to load the area that we're most concerned with … For our long distance runners, they do five to six minutes of jump rope because if you have a history of tibial stress fractures or hip stress fractures or Achilles problems or plantar fasciitis, all of those structures are going to be loaded by the jump rope. They're going to get just enough of a stimulus in that six minutes to have a response. The cells are going to get a response. And then by giving them the supplement an hour beforehand, what we're doing is we're getting them to do their exercise when the nutrients are at their peak.”

I enjoyed reading a few of the articles on Lemon’s site, including a short one on the gluten craze.  The concluding remarks echo where I currently sit.  

  • If you notice symptoms that you believe are related to gluten-consumption please get tested for coeliac disease. This is a disorder that in severely under-detected, very serious in nature, increases risk of many chronic illnesses if not combated and is testable with a high degree of accuracy. Ruling coeliac disease in or out is the first port of call, always.
  • I think it’s fair to state that non-coeliac gluten sensitivity DOES exist. To what extent? I really don’t know to be perfectly honest. But then again, no one does.
  • Saying everyone NEEDS to be 100% gluten-free is ridiculous.
  • Equally as ridiculous is saying that as long as someone doesn’t have coeliac disease, gluten can not potentially be a problem. An illogical absolutist stance on gluten swings both ways.
  • A diet that is gluten-free because someone is eating vegetables, fruit, meat, seafood, nuts, dairy and other whole foods is not a fad. Continuing to eat a poor diet but deciding to pay 5 times the price for your gluten-free cake… now that’s a fad.
  • If you know you experience symptoms from consuming gluten-containing foods and are happier avoiding them, then do that. If you can consume gluten-containing foods without any apparent issue and feel great, then stay doing that.

Hidden Brain

"The stories about the past are so good that they create an illusion that life is understandable, and they create an illusion that you can predict the future,"

This was one of the best pods of the year.  
I’ve been listening to Hidden Brain for a few years now, and this is one of the best.  

I’m not going to share any of my notes - just go listen to it!

Waking Up with Sam Harris

- A Conversation with Rebecca Goldstein and Max Tegmark

Harris has been posting a lot of his live events lately.  I’ve enjoyed them all.  This one was especially interesting.  I haven’t had time for my second listen yet - so, sorry - no notes. 

The Art of Manliness

The book is a culmination of a decade of research by 11 cognitive psychologists, trying to understand what leads to better retention

What they found – the strategies we are drawn to for learning, are low yield strategies
    • Things like reading and rereading, or doing acts over and over again (like putting a golf ball)
    • These strategies feel productive, but the fluency and improvements you see are leaning on short-term memory, not long-term memory

Strategies like the above work well for cramming right before a test, but you won’t remember most of the material a week later

Other learning illusions:

  1. In instructional settings, there’s a temptation to sometimes make the material easy/as clear as you can for the learner
    • The learner then develops a confidence that they are on top of that piece of material
    • However, it’s just an illusion of knowing it, the brain hasn’t actually struggled to learn anything
    • We tend to think easy material sticks easier; this is not the case
  2. Another misconception – if you intend to remember something you will
    • The intentionality doesn’t make learning stick

“All new learning has to connect to something we already know, or we won’t learn it”

The big idea – if you engage in low productive strategies for learning, you may be more likely to think you know something, when you actually don’t

Learning styles (audio vs. visual learning):

  • There’s no evidence that supports using one’s learning preference to learn, actually leads to better learning
  • However, a person is more likely to stick with it longer if the material is presented in the way a person prefers

“All learners learn best when the material is presented in the form that fits the material best”

What’s the best way to learn?
  • “If you want to make learning stick, practice getting it out of the brain, not getting it into the brain”

After you’ve read the material once or twice, put it aside and ask:

  • What are the main ideas of this?
  • How do they relate to what I already know?
  • How would I put this in my own words explaining it to somebody else?

Practice recalling the knowledge later, spaced out, when it’s harder to recall.  This strengthens the connection of that material in the brain, and your ability to recall it.  Do this instead of repeating things over and over all at once

“When it feels like you’re not making progress, that’s actually probably when you are making progress”

  • The process of learning should be difficult
  • When you’re learning, you’re moving material from short to long-term memory, and this happens over time (hours) – sleep helps

“Short-term memory is just electrical and chemical traces, but long-term memory involves actual physical change to the brain” – that’s why real learning takes time


“If you want to have a different world, it is on you to make it so. It will not be easy to do it—it may even require things that you are reluctant to consider. It always has. Moreover, that is your obligation if you are called to a higher task. To do what it takes, to see it through.

What you will do with this lesson, what ends you will put it to, are up to you. All I can say is that it is in these times of flux and upheaval that we may need that ambition most.”

- Ryan Holiday