Sunday, January 29, 2012

Steve Jobs Biography, Apple, Android, and LSD (the drug this time)

Having recently read, and thoroughly enjoyed, the Steve Jobs bio by Walter Isaacson, along with some fresh interactions with Apple products (iTunes, Macbook Pro, iPad), I decided to share the thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head ever since.

There is no doubt that Steve Jobs was an incredible guy who has left a lasting legacy. He was also pretty crazy a lot of the time. Jobs experimented with LSD, followed weird diets, ignored medical advice, and pretty much did what he wanted most of the time. There are a number of reasons he was so successful but the couple of things that stood out for me were his "make it happen" attitude and his insistence on quality, even if it appears he took these to an irrational excess at times.

After reading the bio, I've discovered a strange appreciation for Apple products. Their simplicity and user-friendliness, which drive a lot of the Apple innovation, is very attractive. You may have noticed that many companies are now embracing a Zen-ish simplicity, e.g. Google's recent changes to Gmail, Blogger, Reader, etc... Whether this is directly due to Jobs and Apple or not I can't tell for sure, but the bio does record Larry Page visiting Jobs at his house.

One other aspect of Apple design that deserves a mention is the focus on completely integrated design. There are no bolt on parts to make up the whole, instead products are considered as a whole with features of every part reliant on every other part in their design and function. This leads to great gains in efficiency but lead to much higher production costs and therefore retail costs.

So, after receiving all of this inside information and insight into Apple, I can say that I really do appreciate their products. Unfortunately there is a downside, and it's not the cost. My sort of creativity and innovation doesn't work too well with Apple products. Sure, for writing, drawing, snapping pictures, video, etc. I could use an Apple device, but once I have that media I can't seem to bend the Apple device to do my bidding. I am convinced that this is due to their insistence on having only Apple software, to preserve the Apple experience, and also due to their overly strict digital rights management. Copyright ruins Apple for me.

So proud of their intuitive interface, Apple loses this intuitive interaction with the user when they disable naturally intuitive features like sharing. Also, with iTunes, it is awkward to get your media into a commonly used format and in New Zealand your options for media to purchase on iTunes are vastly diminished. Even their payment system, using gift cards to top up your account balance rather than using it like every other gift voucher (at the checkout), fails the intuition test. The small print on the card? Who reads small print these days? The prices through iTunes are still way out also. Why buy a digital copy of a movie for $25 when that is more expensive than a DVD?

What I inevitably find with Apple products is that I love the device and the hardware interface, but the software just doesn't allow me to be innovative and creative the way that something more open (like Android) does. So after years of trying to have a good experience with Apple products, I have finally given up. I'm not going to experiment with an iPad because it costs too much and I'm almost certain I won't like it - what a waste of money. Instead I plan to wait until decent Android tablets become cheaper (and they will because that's what happened with smart-phones).

Now, I'm a realist. I know that my issues with Apple may change or become irrelevant. I know these issues are not entirely an Apple issue (blame is due to the big music and movie corps too). I also recognise the quality of the hardware, and the suitability of Apple products for digital immigrants and others seeking a simpler technological interaction experience. So if you, or anyone you know wants to give me a free iPad (you never know...) I will still give it a go in the interest of fairness.

I know that people get pretty passionate about their Apple devices, so feel free to rant at me in the comments below. I'm half expecting some Apple cult members to show up and defend their faith, but they should remember that we'd only be arguing about different values - I value a different type of creativity in addition to theirs, and I'm not willing to surrender that.

I'll leave you with a video clip of Steve Jobs launching the iPad 2. Despite the effects of terminal illness on his body, you can see the magic. Enjoy:

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Another part of a story

Another step in the story begun here. So far, a mysterious stranger with a lot of influence has arrived in town and selected an unlikely apprentice. After a few stops on the way out of town to get supplies, the Stranger and Sara have spent a couple of nights in the woods heading to the Stranger's cave dwelling. His name has been revealed as Nero and he has taught Sara a few surprising skills already. Sara has begun to trust Nero because of this and to seek his approval through her actions. Now, they continue on the way, not far from their destination...

"How far is it now?" asked Sara, "You did say that we'll get there today, right?"

Nero glanced up at the sun, tilted his head to the side to think, and then moved his arms in an arc across the sky. He enjoyed pantomiming his thinking process so that apt students could learn without him having to explain, "At this pace, we will arrive around the time that the sun reaches it's peak. And yes girl, today's peak. If I was alone I would be long home though."

Embarrassed at the knowledge that she was slowing him down, Sara looked at the ground to hide the flush that crept into her face. After a moment she responded to the imagined rebuke, "I can go much faster you know. My friend Kelly and I once ran all the way round the village wall in less than the time it took mum to bake a loaf."

Reading Sara's body language, Nero thought to himself that just maybe she wasn't as emotionally stable as he'd been led to believe. He decided to probe a little further to see how she responded to losing. Sara was no use to him if she got hung up on defending herself for the sake of it. He really wanted her to be able to admit defeat and to learn humility from it.

After a few steps he asked, "And how long do you think you could keep that running pace for?"

Lifting her head with a small unconscious tilt, in imitation of his own earlier thinking posture, she then paused in her stride for a moment. Nero paused with her, turning back a little to keep her expression clearly in view. He noted the false confidence rise up as if she was about to blurt out a lie without thinking, and then amazingly he saw the embarrassed flush reappear as she realised that she was about to put her foot in it. Gradually, Sara deflated and resumed walking with her head hanging low and a sad look on her face.

"Tell me what you are thinking girl" Nero commanded in a strangely gentle voice.

"Well..." She paused to take a calming breath and took a moment to look up at his face. After a moment she decided that there was nothing mean in his intentions and let the breath out, "I'm thinking that I'm stupid and don't know as much as I thought."

She blinked back the stinging that was beginning in her eyes and took another breath, holding it with eyes scrunched tightly closed. When she blinked them open again, she was back in control.
"And how did you arrive at those thoughts?"

She looked at him again, thinking that just maybe he was wanting to rub it in, but no. His face remained neutral, definitely not like the big kids who had just started their apprenticeships and still wore expressions of smug superiority when they spoke to her.

Noticing her pause, and wanting to reassure Sara, Nero spoke again, "I'm not wanting to embarrass you further, girl. I just want to know whether you are conscious of your thought process or whether it's purely instinct that got you to the right place. And I don't mean to be cruel in repeating it, but you are right about your own ignorance, though paradoxically that is the wisest position you can hold right now. So please, open up your mind to me a little and share how you went so swiftly from cockiness to true humility."

She didn't understand everything he had just said, she wondered what a paradox was for instance, but right then Sara decided to trust Nero with everything. She could see that he meant her no harm and he spoke to her as if she was a real person with value. In his willingness to be gentle but still probing at something that hurt in order to release the pressure, she found a love for this strange man that had been missing since her father had passed.

So, once again, would you read more?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Benefits of Long Slow Distance (LSD) Exercise

This post looks at the following:
  • What is LSD exercise?
  • How do you do it properly?
  • What are the benefits of LSD exercise (done properly)?
  • Why do groups such as Crossfit rubbish LSD, and why are they wrong to do so?
  • A call to promote simple, relaxing, and healthy exercise.

What is LSD exercise?
As the name suggests, LSD is training sessions where you exercise for a longer time, your intensity is low/slow, and you tend to cover a lot of distance, e.g. running 10km at a heart rate of 145 beats per minute(bpm).  The opposite to LSD training is heading out for a session of sprints or performing weight training.

Neither low or high intensity training is necessarily bad, but high intensity training is more likely to lead to over-training and then injury.  Both forms of training, performed in the right mix, and at the right times, can be highly beneficial to your level of fitness.

The main distinction of LSD training is that it is primarily aerobic in nature, stimulating the aerobic energy system and aerobic muscle development.  Higher intensity training such as Crossfit works the anaerobic energy systems much more, and only to a limited extent does it improve the aerobic system.

How to do LSD training properly
If you follow energy systems and the fully scientific approach, e.g. from Polar here, you will likely find your max heart rate and then train within the range of about 70 to 80 percent of this figure.  For a 30 year old, the max is approximately 190 bpm (thought this can vary widely).  70 to 80 percent of 190 bpm is 133 to 152 bpm.

This means that, for you to do LSD training properly, you will wear a heart rate monitor and train with your heart rate kept within that range.  What if you don't have a monitor?  Some suggest maintaining a pace that you can hold comfortably while breathing through your nose and to stay within this range.

I use Dr. Phil Maffetone's method, which roughly speaking takes your age from 180 and then stays within a range of 10 bpm below this figure, e.g. for a 30 year old: 180 - 30 = 150 and then maintain a range of 140 to 150.  There are modifications to this range based on fitness and health levels.  The Maffetone method often results in a significantly lower heart rate range which some find difficult to keep to because their body wants to move them faster.

Because muscle imbalance can be corrected with light aerobic stimulus, and because you can end up worsening your muscle imbalances much more easily with higher intensity aerobic training.  I think Maffetone's method works best.

Benefits of proper LSD training
While it can take a fair bit of time, the benefits of training LSD are huge.  Later I'll mention why Crossfit can't compete with LSD training where it matters, and what Crossfitters can easily do to save their training.

The benefits:
  • Better fat burning because of optimal mitochondrial development
  • Better recovery because of optimal capillarisation (development of capillaries and therefore increased blood flow to muscles helping bring nutrients)
  • Better performance, again because of the two points above (better blood flow means better oxygen delivery)
  • Lower injury rates since light aerobic training can help restore muscle balance and efficiently develops your aerobic muscles which are your structural/stabilising muscles for joints
It should be mentioned that LSD training, if it is the only training that you ever do, will not be enough to help you perform at a competitive level.  But for the average person, LSD is a great way to increase both health and fitness without the drawback of low energy levels during a lengthy recovery period, which is typical of high intensity training.

Why do groups like Crossfit not follow LSD methods?
On the Crossfit Endurance FAQ page, you can find a list of pros and cons for LSD training.  For them, they choose to follow a higher intensity training because there are more cons (in their view) of LSD training, and more benefits of anaerobic training.  While their list is true, it is only true under certain conditions, and is only relevant if you are aiming to perform at a high to elite level (which if we're honest, is not most of us).

Primarily, crossfit methods are wrong because they overlook the two greatest benefits of aerobic training with LSD, namely increased capillarisation and mitochondrial growth.  Without these, you are setting yourself up for injury if you want to maintain a high training frequency.  I look at crossfit and can't help but feel that most of it is designed around controlled over-training in which it is almost impossible to avoid injury.

The good news, as many people are beginning to realise, is that you can have the best of both worlds simply be seasonalising your training carefully.  Ben O'Grady is one I've discovered and enjoy reading and recommend his articles.  Maffetone has been seasonalising much longer, often recommending a 3 month aerobic base building (off) season and even a mini base building season for a month or so in the middle of a long competitive season.

For crossfitters, gymnasts, parkour practitioners, and any other athletes with high intensity expectations, I thoroughly recommend fitting in 3 months minimum per year of exclusive (no anaerobic training whatsoever) aerobic training.

Everyone should be training this way
Finally, I want to point out that the benefits I've discussed (fat burning, recovery, injury prevention), along with a thoroughly easy and enjoyable training method, are not only great for athletes.  Even the average person, who merely wants the health and energy to enjoy life properly, will benefit enormously from LSD training.

I know that I want to be active when my children are old enough to train at the things that I love, and LSD training is essential to this.  I would love to see people all over the world embracing something which really is an essential part of the foundation to a better life.

To any crossfitters who might be a bit peeved at me, I say keep your crossfit but at least spend a few months each year preparing for your personal crossfit season.  And if injury occurs, back off and spend a few months repairing your body with long, slow, distance, aerobic training.

All the best!