Believe it or not, resolving the issue of the “chippiness” of your chocolate chip ice cream is an exercise in complexity. There’s a variety of ways to approach it: some good, some bad. The optimum outcome is ensured if the testing panel is represented by different, but relevant, points of view.

Scott Page, Professor of Complex Systems, Political Science and Economics at the University of Michigan, explained in an address to the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts (RSA) in London today how Ben & Jerry’s determined the volume and size of chips in their chocolate chip brand. Laying out a range of options in a large room, the testers placed tubs of rising chip size along one axis, and tubs with an increasing number of chips along the other axis. The grid produced all the various options in between. From a complexity theorist’s point of view, the resultant scores should look like a rugged landscape, with peaks of preference forming across the matrix pointing to the best combination.

But, as Page said, chippiness was only one way of looking at the problem. Continue reading ‘how “chippy” do you like your ice cream?’

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Tweet To the weary who completed the London Marathon in record temperatures, or like legend Haile Gebrsellassi who did not, there is some good stuff on the web this past 10 days to justify that we are in fact designed to run very long distances in the heat. The differences exist between those who think […]

More on peformance anxiety from knackered downunder.

Expecting to win and dealing with the accompanying pressures are part of the life of an elite athlete. But what happens when you’re among the elite, but don’t necessarily expect yourself to win?

That’s the dilemma facing Michelle Wie, the extraordinarily talented 17-year-old American golfer, who has set herself the target, so far unsuccessful, of competing against the men in a PGA tour event.

In an interview with ESPN, Kathy Whitworth – a veteran golfer who leads the LPGA Tour with 88 wins – says Wie’s desire to play in men’s tournaments may not be beneficial for her own career or development as an athlete because top sportspeople need to experience pressure and the belief that they will win.

Continue reading ‘overcoming pressure and winner’s belief’

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Arthur Newton is not a figure many will have heard of, not even committed runners. But Newton is the father of modern endurance training method.

Born in 1883, Newton was a veteran of the First World War when he took up running seriously, aged 38. He won the 1923 South African 55-mile Comrades marathon, beating the existing record by two hours – this is regarded by experts as one of the greatest athletic feats of all time. During his running career he held nearly all the major distance records, including the 100 miles between Bath and London. His first Comrades win in 1922 was after just 20 weeks of training from his first painful two-miler.

This is a story of redemption and a man seeking reparation. Newton was an early example of someone who used his sport for political ends. He had returned to his South African farmstead from serving as a dispatch rider in the British Army, only to find the government had neglected his property in his absence. He believed that amateur athletics was a uniquely noble activity, one that could not fail to inspire sympathy for his cause.

For those of us who run for charity, the motivation is not dissimilar. Indeed, many take on the marathon following the death or illness of a loved-one, or as a means of overcoming some other life challenge as a statement of emotional and financial support to the organisations that have provided succour to us, our loved ones, or others whose plight has moved us.

By the 1950s the full value of his training methods was realised with the appearance of the great age of endurance running. What he understood in the 1920s was that you needed to do a lot of mileage, and most of it slowly, building speed and distance with small incremental steps. Indeed, his early training involved a lot of walking. Those first two miles caused him a lot of discomfort – he could not run for several days afterward, so he walked instead.

Newton’s approach was to develop what physiologists call “running economy” – something I’ve realised my own training has not yet established. My maximal test at the University of Bath highlighted just this. While I have focused mostly on the VO2 Max, which is above average, my report was much more critical of how well I use that capacity over distance. Because I have not trained slowly enough I have below average economy. Hopefully, as the miles pile on that will improve.
Resting Heart Rate 46

Weight 71.5 kg

Mood :-(

No exercise, insufficient time.

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There is a great book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb called Fooled by Randomness, which examines the role of luck in all areas of life, particularly business and investing.

Taleb is a professor of mathematics and a derivatives trader. Not much to do with sport. But his business is complexity. There is something in statistics called “survivorship bias”. There is a danger that what we measure excludes those that have fallen by the wayside, distorting our view of the world.

Sport is a bit like that when it comes to injury and overtraining. The winner is the best on the day, and not necessarily the best over time. What we certainly don’t see at all are the no-shows, the non-runners, the might-have-beens. Imagine England’s rugby performance over the past few years if Jonny Wilkinson had not been injured.

Taleb is a fitness fanatic and keen cyclist. He says he is not interested in competitive sports, so he does not offer much to help an athlete understand success, except to offer the proverbial observation that a baseball hitter is normally cursed when he appears on the front of Sports Illustrated as it is normally followed by a reversal in fortune. (Mathematically, the previous winning streak was in fact an unsustainable run of luck).

In competitive sport, luck is not very likely to take an average athlete to a gold medal. But bad luck will certainly remove good prospects from the population of potential winners. Reducing that component of luck is what athletes strive for. In my own more modest marathon ambitions, I’m trying to do the same. Except there is not any pressure to win, just a pressure to turn up. That is not a small pressure, and if you are raising money for a charity, that pressure builds the nearer you get to the day. I ran my first marathon injured and while still recovering from a virus, dangerously toughing it out so as not to let down those who’d sponsored me.

Continue reading ‘luck, latent talent and training’

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