Sunday, 11 March 2018

Not Very Stable Genius Week 10: March 5-11 2018


The ultimate in security is the admission of insecurity


Time and attention are not the same.
Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day but varying levels of attention - Muneeb Ali (@muneeb)

Quote-tweeted by James Clear (@james_clear), who adds:

What you pay attention to with the time you have determines the life you live.
To improve your ability to pay attention, get more sleep and exercise each day.
To improve the direction of your attention, research widely and select carefully. Broad funnel, tight filter. 



“Bears repeating: Creativity that satisfies & affirms your world view is Entertainment. Creativity that challenges & disrupts your world view is Art.” - Neil de Grasse Tyson

My question - why always a false dichotomy?  Cannot art be entertaining, and entertainment be artistic? Why draw a line between the two?

So, while I don’t necessarily agree with this, what I DO like about it is that it makes you think about both - and is a good conversation-starter; perhaps that was the point.

“I don't hate on "both sides" to feel superior. I could feel superior on either side. 
I hate "both sides" to show them that there are more than two sides.” - TJ Kirk

On why-how we get faster, and why words matter

(an excerpt from an email discussion with a colleague):

I prefer ‘appropriately’ to ‘optimally’.  I feel ‘optimal’ is an over-used word that doesn’t really mean anything concrete.  

Also - I disagree with your conclusion here (*based on his assertion that he - as a coach - helped to improve an athlete’s 40yd time, by positively affecting his sprint mechanics, and that he did not see this as ‘getting him faster’*):

"Did I really "get him faster?"  No, I don't think so."

If he ran (X) coming in, and ran (X-__) going out, then he “got faster”.  

You can deduce as to the cause(s) of this, but you cannot argue against the outcome

I feel this is important - because what is it exactly we are affecting through improvement of mechanics? 

How is this different from affecting force-producing abilities that have more traditionally been seen as the limiting factors to speed?

Why should one hold greater credence than another if the outcome is the same?

As you know, I would argue that it is the improvement of mechanics - and the concomitant improvement in ‘rhythmical-timing' abilities (whatever those are) - that is most significant in gross improvement of motor expression - whether this be speed or otherwise. 


OK - this next bit is long.  Apologies.
But I think it is important … (obv)

Mike Boyle wrote a short piece on his blog in response to an article on SimpliFaster by Carl Valle.  The SF article is slightly derogatory towards Mr Boyle; I would actually argue that it is disrespectful.  

So I ask:

“When is it OK to slate someone on-line publicly?”

I’ve done this once, I think.  

Back in the late 90s, on the old Supertraining forum, I took offense to some of the things that Charles Poliquin was saying and doing at the time, and relayed these thoughts publicly.  While I felt at the time - and still do today in hindsight - that these critiques were very fair - in retrospect, I probably should not have posted my thoughts on a public forum - or at least in the way in which I did it. 

While I feel it is necessary that we are continually challenged by our peers and colleagues, it is important that this challenge be fair, constructive, and shared in a way that has more to do with communication, discussion, and the sharing of knowledge, and less to do with the promotion of your own agenda.  

Although it is not necessary to read the posts, I would suggest - for better context - to give them a quick read before continuing on here  (although I think the SF post has been edited since Mike wrote his response).  

*Read them not to engage in the discussion around the single-leg versus double-leg false dichotomy, but to better understand the ways in which we can be appropriately critical of a method - without personally attacking the proponents of said method.  

The SF post is an example of what is increasingly common these days.  In response to these articles, I sent an email to a 12 friends in the industry, asking for some advice.  I will share excerpts from that email here.  I will follow it up with some snippets from the responses. 

From the email I wrote:

I have no bias towards Mike.  I have met him only once, but as an industry leader - a guy that has ‘been in the trenches’ for 30+ years, I feel he deserves a little more respect than what has been offered in the SF blog-post - and that this lack of respect in the industry is increasingly pervasive.

Rather than fading off into the distance, it seems the ‘keyboard warriors’ / ‘thumb thugs’ / ‘trolls’ / ‘digital d-bags’ / etc. (credit to Brett B for the terminology) are possibly more influential than ever; as the power of the internet continues to expand, and as blogs continue to offer a pay-by-word platform with little appreciation for quality of content or authority of writer, the typical young industry professional is forced to navigate a landscape of low-quality, often-contradictory ‘facts' seemingly hourly ...

I have sent this email to experienced high-quality people, producing high-quality work, and I ask you these questions:

  • Do our responsibilities as industry-leaders end at the production of high-quality work?
  • Or do we have a further responsibility to be critical of low-quality work? 
  • If the latter - what is our best means to address this? 

If we choose to be critical, there are generally two paths, as I see it:

  • Call out the methods 
  • Call out the people

I have generally just stuck to the former: I try to produce high-quality content (whether it is in my coaching, or my writing), and I am 'carefully critical’ of what I see as problematic (for example, I have railed against the practice of many coaches producing terribly-written, poorly thought-out books lately; my message being - just because it is easy to write a book, doesn’t mean that you should do it … and ‘carefully’ critical - because none of us wants the reputation as a cynic, or a simple contrarian.  There is a fine line between cynical and critical).

I have tended to avoid going after people by name - as I feel it a good idea to live by the Mark Twain maxim:  “Never argue with an idiot. They will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.”  Or, if you prefer - Robert Heinlein: "Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it annoys the pig”.

There are no wars to fight in our profession.  

We all have the same motivation, and the same objective (or should do).

In most cases, we do a great job of working together to solve the performance puzzles that lie in front of us.

And for the most part, the internet has been a tool for good in this objective

Obviously, our industry is simply a microcosm of society at-large.  

An expanding internet - that was originally viewed as a great thing - has seen its strength turned back upon it.  

The open-source, filterless access to everything has quickly become either a confusing mess, or an echo-chamber - driven less by the process of acquiring knowledge, and more by the simple parroting of facts (or ‘alternative facts’). 

But teaching is not about facts.  It is about the process of arriving at those facts. (That’s not mine, BTW.  Can’t remember who I stole it from)

This is what we need to get back to.

So that folks - in our industry, or otherwise - can better discern fact from fiction; where we work together - without the necessity of social media confirmation.

That’s what I see with Mike Boyle.

And I feel that this should be applauded, respected, and supported. 

pic courtesy Peter Simmons, 5or6

My favorite response to my email was from my buddy Dr John Berardi (CEO and founder of Precision Nutrition).  

From JB's email:

“I think "the industry" requires all types of people, perspectives, and interventions. 
So, my take isn't so much:
"What responsibility do we all have?" 
"What variety of roles need filling in a healthy, forward-looking, self-governing, mature community?" 
And then:
"Which role am I best suited to fill, for now, with my unique gifts and abilities?"
When answering those questions I've realized that I'm uniquely suited to playing the long game. 
To researching, learning, growing, teaching, publishing, developing others, and creating ideas and movements that naturally and powerfully displace various other forms of nonsense out there.
I've also realized I'm not suited to bickering or arguing about hot-button stuff. Indeed, I love your Mark Twain and Robert Heinlein quotes. For my part, I've always quoted Jay-Z from The Takeover: 
”A wise man told me don't argue with fools. Cause people, from a distance, can't tell who is who.”
It's why I've conducted myself the way I have. 
I genuinely believe that the minor skirmishes are irrelevant. Worse yet, they're a distraction from the real work. 
Because, the real work is to be a professional doing good work - undistracted, and undeterred. 

And to help create and inspire other professionals who are committed to doing the same.
Former president Obama said something I loved in the most recent Netflix Documentary "The Final Year" (which I found fascinating):  
"It's been interesting talking to my staff, my team, many of whom are younger. I just have to remind them that history doesn't really follow a straight line. It zigs and zags. But the trend lines ultimately go in the direction of a less violent, more empathetic, more generous world. And that requires individuals fighting for that future."
My perspective is that it takes all kinds of individuals, talents, philosophies. Borrowing from the civil rights movement, there's a lot of noise about whether "Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan types" or "Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesse Jackson types" espouse more effective philosophies for provoking change.

My take is that BOTH are required. And the tension created between the two modes is necessary.
So, in the end, yes ... some people should probably fight in the skirmishes (for example, this unilateral vs bilateral flame war) and live in the zigs and the zags ... but not everyone ... because others need to be focussed on the trend line.”

pic courtesy Peter Simmons, 5or6

I think the above is incredibly insightful - and a reminder that I need to follow my own advice here, and not fall into the false dichotomy trap as it relates to manners of critique. It’s not necessarily about one way or the other.  

Perhaps all are necessary.  

For those of you who jump directly to single-leg versus double-leg - you are missing the point.  

I personally don’t care about this conversation.  There is little evidence either way.  It’s an irrelevant debate, in my mind.  All we can do as professionals is employ what we think works best, with our population of athletes, in our own specific situations.  If Mike feels that eliminating double-leg squats was the way to go for him, and that this has been a ‘game-changer’ for him, then who is anyone else to challenge this?  Does he not deserve to have his own personal point-of-view here?  This goes back to my thoughts last week on who of us have a ‘right to an opinion’.  Well, I’m sure that all of us will agree that Mike has secured a position where he indeed has this right.  

We all have our own stories - what we believe in will always be based on our own individual narratives, compared to what we know-think-guess, and blended in our own personal ‘methodologizer’, while keeping in mind that a sustainable system is built on a foundation of objective understanding.  

A text from another friend in the industry:

“To me, at the core of this, it comes down to what is truth and what is fact. Facts correspond to data and measurement. I can’t stand this picking of fights - the passive aggressive calling out of individuals.  It serves only to advance his agenda but does nothing for anyone else.  The bigger issue behind single vs double leg (a debate that has NO real data either way) is: how do you spot self-interested, logical fallacies, coming from a modern day pseudo-science expert.”

So - to answer the question I proposed in my email earlier:

Yes - I feel that so-called ‘leaders of industry’ have a responsibility more than simply producing good work.  

Professor John Cronin (Co-Director of the Sports Performance Research Institute New Zealand - SPRINZ) was in town this week, and asked me a question that I have asked of many - and in my answer to John, I guess I answered my email question. 

“What is success to you?”

An outline of my response:

It has changed over the years, and can be encapsulated by asking these three questions:

  • Am I doing all I can to continue learning how to be a successful coach

  • Am I doing all I can do better enable the success of the athletes I coach? 

  • Am I doing all I can do help the industry move forward successfully?

The first part of my career was about me.  
The second part was about the athletes.  
And the third part is about the industry.  

*with an appreciation of the complex hierarchical organization of this; there was-is no district gaps.

So as someone who now that has feet in all three, I feel I should actively take steps to positively influence the industry (or ‘profession of coaches’, if you prefer) in a manner that is respectful of myself, those who I may critique, and those who I may influence. 

pic courtesy Peter Simmons, 5or6

In the words of Nassim Nicholas Taleb, here is my message to would-be critics:

“always do more than you talk. And precede talk with action. For it will always remain that action without talk supersedes talk without action.” 

And from Christopher Hitchens, who wrote in his Letters to a Young ContrarianThe noble title of "dissident" must be earned rather than claimed; it connotes sacrifice and risk rather than mere disagreement”.  

As Taleb would say - have ‘skin in the game’.

In other words, be critical.  Evolution requires it.  

But remember what the point of it is.

Consider first, your expertise.  Are you a worthy contrarian?
Next, consider your motivation.  Is it authentic?  Or is it about you?
And lastly, consider your message.  Is it suitably respectful?

“one should strive to combine the maximum of impatience with the maximum of skepticism, the maximum of hatred of injustice and irrationality with the maximum of ironic self-criticism. This would mean really deciding to learn from history rather than invoking or sloganising it.”  Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian

“if it can happen to me—someone who literally wrote the book on mental peak performance, including sections like “Stress Yourself” and “Turn Anxiety into Excitement”—it can happen to anyone.”

My friend Brad Stulberg has written an honest and important piece here on how he is combatting his anxiety. I encourage you to read full article. 

Included in his lessons:

  1. Think Impermanence
  2. Let Go of Control 
  3. Lean into it
  4. Know You’re Not Alone
  5. Exercise
  6. Practice Self-Compassion
  7. Be Patient


There is a well-known anecdote about British rule in India. In Delhi, officials were concerned that there were too many cobras. To reduce their population, people were paid for each cobra killed. When the administrators found out that some people had started to breed cobras to kill them and collect the reward, they stopped the scheme. The farmed cobras were set free, causing the population to explode. 

This is the so-called cobra effect, which describes how incentives in complex systems can have unintended consequences which exacerbate the problem they were trying to solve.

… society could function freely and democratically only if it were made up of individuals engaged in the thinking activity – an activity that required solitude. Arendt believed that ‘living together with others begins with living together with oneself’.

Echoing Plato, Arendt observed: ‘Thinking, existentially speaking, is a solitary but not a lonely business; solitude is that human situation in which I keep myself company. Loneliness comes about … when I am one and without company’ but desire it and cannot find it. In solitude, Arendt never longed for companionship or craved camaraderie because she was never truly alone. Her inner self was a friend with whom she could carry on a conversation, that silent voice who posed the vital Socratic question: ‘What do you mean when you say …?’ The self, Arendt declared, ‘is the only one from whom you can never get away – except by ceasing to think.’

Arendt’s warning is well worth remembering in our own time. In our hyper-connected world, a world in which we can communicate constantly and instantly over the internet, we rarely remember to carve out spaces for solitary contemplation. We check our email hundreds of times per day; we shoot off thousands of text messages per month; we obsessively thumb through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, aching to connect at all hours with close and casual acquaintances alike. We search for friends of friends, ex-lovers, people we barely know, people we have no business knowing. We crave constant companionship.

But, Arendt reminds us, if we lose our capacity for solitude, our ability to be alone with ourselves, then we lose our very ability to think. We risk getting caught up in the crowd. We risk being ‘swept away’, as she put it, ‘by what everybody else does and believes in’ – no longer able, in the cage of thoughtless conformity, to distinguish ‘right from wrong, beautiful from ugly’. Solitude is not only a state of mind essential to the development of an individual’s consciousness – and conscience – but also a practice that prepares one for participation in social and political life. Before we can keep company with others, we must learn to keep company with ourselves.

pic courtesy Peter Simmons, 5or6


Sam Harris and Eliezer Yudkowsky on “AI: Racing Toward the Brink”

Early on in the conversation, a guy that did not go to High School addresses critiques of David Deutsch and Neil DeGrasse Tyson:

Sam: Those are two hugely useful categories of doubt with respect to your thesis here, or the concerns we’re expressing, and I just want to point out that both have been put forward on this podcast. The first was by David Deutsch, the physicist, who imagines that whatever AI we build—and he certainly thinks we will build it—will be by definition an extension of us. He thinks the best analogy is to think of our future descendants. These will be our children. The teenagers of the future may have different values than we do, but these values and their proliferation will be continuous with our values and our culture and our memes. There won’t be some radical discontinuity that we need to worry about. And so there is that one basis for lack of concern: this is an extension of ourselves and it will inherit our values, improve upon our values, and there’s really no place where things reach any kind of cliff that we need to worry about. 
The other non-concern you just raised was expressed by Neil deGrasse Tyson on this podcast. He says things like, “Well, if the AI starts making too many paperclips I’ll just unplug it, or I’ll take out a shotgun and shoot it”—the idea that this thing, because we made it, could be easily switched off at any point we decide it’s not working correctly. So I think it would be very useful to get your response to both of those species of doubt about the alignment problem. 
Eliezer: So, a couple of preamble remarks. One is: “by definition”? We don’t care what’s true by definition here. Or as Einstein put it: insofar as the equations of mathematics are certain, they do not refer to reality, and insofar as they refer to reality, they are not certain. 
The first thing I’d want to say is this is an empirical question. We have a question of what certain classes of computational systems actually do when you switch them on. It can’t be settled by definitions; it can’t be settled by how you define “intelligence.” 

… I’m claiming this is true for technical reasons. Like, this is true as a matter of computer science. And the question is not which of these different narratives seems to resonate most with your soul. It’s: what’s actually going to happen? What do you think you know? How do you think you know it?

The way I would put it to somebody who’s initially coming in from the first viewpoint, the viewpoint that respects intelligence and wants to know why this intelligence would be doing something so pointless, is that the thesis, the claim I’m making, that I’m going to defend is as follows. 
Imagine that somebody from another dimension—the standard philosophical troll who’s always called “Omega” in the philosophy papers—comes along and offers our civilization a million dollars worth of resources per paperclip that we manufacture. If this was the challenge that we got, we could figure out how to make a lot of paperclips. We wouldn’t forget to do things like continue to harvest food so we could go on making paperclips. We wouldn’t forget to perform scientific research, so we could discover better ways of making paperclips. We would be able to come up with genuinely effective strategies for making a whole lot of paperclips.
Eliezer: “Because I was trying to make a point about what I would now call cognitive uncontainability. The thing that makes something smarter than you dangerous is you cannot foresee everything it might try. You don’t know what’s impossible to it. Maybe on a very small game board like the logical game of tic-tac-toe, you can in your own mind work out every single alternative and make a categorical statement about what is not possible. Maybe if we’re dealing with very fundamental physical facts, if our model of the universe is correct (which it might not be), we can say that certain things are physically impossible. But the more complicated the system is and the less you understand the system, the more something smarter than you may have what is simply magic with respect to that system. 

Imagine going back to the Middle Ages and being like, “Well, how would you cool your room?” You could maybe show them a system with towels set up to evaporate water, and they might be able to understand how that is like sweat and it cools the room. But if you showed them a design for an air conditioner based on a compressor, then even having seen the solution, they would not know this is a solution. They would not know this works any better than drawing a mystic pentagram, because the solution takes advantage of laws of the system that they don’t know about. 

A brain is this enormous, complicated, poorly understood system with all sorts of laws governing it that people don’t know about, that none of us know about at the time. So the idea that this is secure—that this is a secure attack surface, that you can expose a human mind to a superintelligence and not have the superintelligence walk straight through it as a matter of what looks to us like magic, like even if it told us in advance what it was going to do we wouldn’t understand it because it takes advantage of laws we don’t know about—the idea that human minds are secure is loony.”

And a brief discussion of what Yudkowsky calls the Coordination Problem

Eliezer: A coordination problem is where there’s a better way to do it, but you have to change more than one thing at a time. So an example of a problem is: Let’s say you have Craigslist, which is one system where buyers and sellers meet to buy and sell used things within a local geographic area. Let’s say that you have an alternative to Craigslist and your alternatives is Danslist, and Danslist is genuinely better. (Let’s not worry for a second about how many startups think that without it being true; suppose it’s like genuinely better.) 
All of the sellers on Craigslist want to go someplace that there’s buyers. All of the buyers on Craigslist want to go someplace that there’s sellers. How do you get your new system started when it can’t get started by one person going on to Danslist and two people going on to Danslist? There’s no motive for them to go there until there’s already a bunch of people on Danslist. 
Sam: Right. The problem is that the world is organized in such a way that it is rational for each person to continue to behave the way he or she is behaving in this highly suboptimal way, given the way everyone else is behaving. And to change your behavior by yourself isn’t sufficient to change the system, and is therefore locally irrational, because your life will get worse if you change by yourself. Everyone has to coordinate their changing so as to move to some better equilibrium.


“O con noi o contro di noi"

pic courtesy Peter Simmons, 5or6


  1. Interesting thoughts. I think the tension is a good thing from time to time. I ran into many of these concerns when putting together my presentation for the ACP. Having to compare and contrast the work of experts can be difficult to navigate. However, the conversation must be had none the less. When I embarked on writing the Sprinter's Compendium I let go of worrying about keyboard warriors as I knew my learning disability in writing was going to get in the way. In spite of my disability I thought the help I could provide would far outweigh my critics or embarrassment.