Thursday, January 14, 2016

One Year In With Open Source Volleyball

Today is the one year anniversary of starting the Open Source Volleyball blog. In that time I've managed to (as of today) write 52 blog posts. That's more than I thought I would get done, but even in that span of time and blog posts I haven't made the progress I thought I would have with the material I want to cover. I still have at least 2 and as many as 6 (or more) just covering rotations. Some of that time was more than one post per week, and obviously other times was less than one post per week. If I can manage that moving forward, I'll be pretty happy. I would also like to get it to where it can and should be on its own URL, but I'm not there yet.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Olympic Lifts - A Rant - Sort Of

Probably mostly due to the popularity of Crossfit, Olympic lifts are kind of big. Outside of the Crossfit mentality, I just don't get it. I have long heard of the value of Olympic lifts for developing explosive power for things like jumping and sprinting, but I think their value is overstated. Don't get me wrong, there is value to doing them, but they are not the end all be all of lifts, even for developing explosive power.

One of the big problems I have with them is that they are very easily performed wrong. In this case, bad form is much more likely to lead to injury. People lift with bad form all the time in everything from biceps curls to squats. In some cases this is just a case of ineffectively working out the target muscles. In other cases it is dangerous and could lead to injury over time. A lifter might perform an exercise with dangerous form for a lifetime and never get injured. I see the evidence of this almost every time someone brings up how a video shows bad form, and a commenter points out how they have done it that way for 2 decades and never been injured. It may be true, but it doesn't disprove that they are playing with fire. It helps perpetuate exercise myths and dangerous practices. When people do the Olympic lifts wrong it is just dangerous. There is immediate risk of serious injury. Watch any video of "Crossfit fails", and you will see at least a few examples where you wonder how the lifter can still walk or feel their toes. Olympic lifts are much more skill and technique than most free weight exercises. With their increasing popularity, more people are doing these with inadequate instruction and understanding. They push too hard, too soon, and they just do it wrong.

The other big problem I have is with their specificity, or lack thereof. Our bodies adapt to training very specifically to the training protocol employed. The explosive power trained in even the most basic Olympic lift is only developed by a small part of the lift. I want my jump to improve. I need to overload the muscles used at the kinds of velocity that they will be used in jumping. The lift might reasonably replicate the velocity, but it might not do so through the full range of motion of my jump. It also has a lot of other stuff going on that doesn't help me jump higher at all (or is at least highly ineffective). Add in the aforementioned risk of injury, and you have a superficially superior, but not so effective lift that is dangerous and hard to learn. Two guys with the same 1RM squat, overhead press, and bench press might have vastly different cleans, or snatches, all due to skill and familiarity with the technique. And that doesn't mean that one is going to improve their jump or sprint time that much more than the other.

I can get a more completely and directly applicable range of motion from the rack pull done at jumping speeds than I can with any of the Olympic lifts without having to think about a technically complex lift and nailing the technique. A rack pull has the added advantage of being a lift that you can easily bail on by dropping the bar. The bar isn't going to drop on your head or neck. It isn't even going to fall that far. I can start at a joint angle that closely approximates joint angles at the beginning of a jumping motion to maximize applicability. I can get in a good volume of high intensity reps without getting worn out by the less applicable parts of the lift. I can get more beneficial work done in less time than with the Olympic lifts. Overload and specificity. That's what exercise and training is all about.

If you want to do Olympic lifts, feel free to do so. Please for the love of all that is good and holy, learn to perform them properly, and don't push harder than you should. Don't be the next Crossfit fails star. Just understand that there is a easier, safer, more effective alternative.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Twitter Experiment - Part Two

The last couple days has been interesting. On the first day I set up a couple tweets linking to related posts for the next day, and another tweet linking to another post for day three. On day two I ended up writing a new post and tweeted it. The combined new post and the tweets linking to older posts ended up giving me about 10 times the page views I typically get on a day with a new post. The new post happened to get retweeted by another twitter account devoted to sitting volleyball, which was one of the things I talked about. They told me that they also posted a link on their facebook page. I can't really say how much any one of those things did on its own, but the aggregate was impressive.

I've got a couple likes from odd accounts unrelated to volleyball. Today's tweet ended up getting retweeted by one of those types of accounts. I can only figure that there is some sort of like farm running Twitter accounts for people trying to monetize something. I can respect someone trying to make money off social media by creating content that people want to read and hustling to get it in the hands of interested readers. I am trying to do that after a manner. I have a hard time with someone trying to do that by hiring out someone in some developing country to randomly like and retweet stuff in hopes that it will expand your readership.

I am starting to feel some internal pressure to generate more content. I would like to have a tweet every day just to keep it visible and increase the likelihood of catching a new reader. So far I have pulled from posts I have written over the course of the year. If I manage to link to a different post every day, I'm going to run out of my better posts in short order. I have a series that could result in 7 posts that could keep me going for a little while, and I have a follow up to the sitting volleyball post, but that still has me running out of new tweets linking to blog posts in the near future. I'm going to need a lot of new content soon, start tweeting without links, or recycle links. If I can help it, I want to avoid recycling links. I want more content, but I don't want to dilute quality. I'm going to have to start doing non-linking tweets. Microblogging indeed.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Twitter Experiment - Part One

Back at the first of the year, I decided to put all of my volleyball posts in their own blog. Eventually I will put them on their own domain and hopefully I will be able to monetize the site. Their is a place to tip through PayPal, and any books or products I review will have an Amazon Affiliate link, but otherwise I want it to be ad free. Eventually I'll sell tee shirts or print material from the site. I haven't really talked about it a whole lot here, but I've been working on it throughout the year. I'm currently at 41 posts going back to January 14th of this year. Discounting that first post, which was essentially a "welcome to my blog" post, that's 40 posts over 327 days.

I don't really broadcast that I have the blog. There is a link to it on a couple odd forums I frequent, but they aren't related to volleyball, so it isn't going to drive a lot of traffic there. I have a Google+ page for it, and there is a posting there every time I post on the blog. I throw a couple hashtags on the Google+ posting. On average, I get about 6-10 page views every time I post. If I have posts close together, like within a day or two, there seems to be a better bump in traffic. Individual posts tend to get about 3-5 page views.

In the last week I acquired a new computer. I've been doing the typical breaking in and kicking the tires on the new operating system. As part of that, I looked at Tweet Deck. I'm behind the curve on Twitter. I just never got into it when it was hot and new, and I've only ever had the one account. Probably because of the desire to give Tweet Deck a good test drive, I decided to try a little Twitter experiment.

For the experiment I set up a Twitter account for the volleyball blog. On my main account, I took all of the Twitter users I follow that are volleyball related and put them in a public "Volleyball" list. Then I scheduled a few tweets from the volleyball account with a one sentence teaser for the blog post, a link to the post, and a couple contextually appropriate hashtags. That's about it.

So far, after about 5 hours from the first tweet, page views today are up by almost 20. The post I linked to in the tweet is up about 10. That's a significant increase on that first tweet. I'm pretty happy with that initial bump in traffic. I have three more tweets scheduled for the next two days. It will be interesting to see what happens with those.

Looking at notifications on the volleyball Twitter account I find some amusing things. There were two Twitter users who liked my tweet. One makes sense. It' is an account related to sports leagues. I'm assuming it has to do with youth soccer leagues and the like. I didn't really look into it, but it makes sense. The post in question was about coaching more than just volleyball specifically. The other one, and the third account that added my volleyball twitter account to a list entitled "coaching", makes less sense. The one that liked it is a "Relationship coach and author". The one that added it to a list is a "Business coach for holistic practitioners, health coaches, and spiritual entrepreneurs." I can only imagine they did a search for #coaching and just started liking and adding to a list what they found. I can't imagine how my post could actually relate to business, relationship, or health coaching.  It just doesn't. It's about skill and ability as a player and whether or not that translates to being a good coach for that sport. Sure it will apply across different sports, but those other areas not so much. The way some people use Twitter just baffles and amuses me.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the next couple days. The first few hours has been a positive in my mind. I'll have to look over my past posts and see what others I want to link to until I have a new post. I think the new post with accompanying Google+ and Twitter links will be needed to really see how things go on this experiment.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

To Review Or Not To Review...

Years ago I remember hearing a friend talking to someone about the fantasy series, The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. I wasn't reading a lot of fantasy at the time, so I didn't pay a lot of attention. I think book 3 was probably the most recent release. They seemed like they were really into the series. I do remember thinking the premise was interesting, an epic saga that gets played out again every age. I remember thinking that each book in the series would be about one age, and the next book would be the next age, etc. Fantasy seemed to be inextricably linked to trilogies, so this notion could be interesting without wearing out its welcome. Of course I was completely wrong about the premise. Instead it was a long series about just one age.

Some years later I saw discussion of the series in a forum. I still wasn't reading a lot of fantasy, so I didn't pay a lot of attention. This time around the thing that really stuck with me was the idea that around book 6 or 7, I don't remember which exactly, the series really slowed down, and readers were enduring it more than enjoying it. I got the general impression that Jordan wrote stories with a slower pace. About this same time I was hearing good things about Brandon Sanderson. He was writing fantasy, and they are girthy books, but that the stories moved well. My impression, purely from listening to others' opinions, was that these two authors were virtually opposites. That's why I got a little curious about the news that Sanderson was tabbed to finish the massive series left unfinished with Jordan's passing.

My interest in writing prompted me to consider reading the series as an academic exercise to compare and contrast the two authors. I didn't have a baseline for either author, so I didn't really entertain the idea seriously. Sure, the 11 books written before his passing would give me a decent baseline for Jordan. That would still leave me with no baseline for Sanderson. I still wasn't really reading fantasy. For that matter I wasn't really reading for pleasure outside of reading forum posts, and that isn't always pleasurable. Truth be told, while I love reading, I don't read a lot because my reading speed isn't that fast. It isn't like I have a reading impairment or dysfunction, but a door stop of a book is usually going to make me look elsewhere.

A few years later I find myself in a job that affords me the opportunity to listen to an mp3 player for 5-7 hours a day. My music collection isn't very extensive, so I quickly got tired of listening to my music. Eventually I was wanting to listen to something else while working. I first discovered We're Alive, a modern take on old timey audio dramas, and enjoyed it immensely. After listening to the whole first season and all of what was released of the second in a matter of days, I was on the search for more audio fiction. This eventually led me to audiobooks that I could check out from my local library. I could even download them from my home computer.

An interesting challenge to getting my fiction this way is that the library doesn't always have full series available. Sometimes I can get books 1, 4, and 9 of a series. Other times I might be able to get books 1 and 2, but not 3 and 4. Next it's the other way around. Finally I came to The Wheel of Time, and I come to find out that they whole series is available from the library in audiobook. Suddenly that compare and contrast exercise is sounding a lot better. The icing on the cake is that I have now "read" a couple Sanderson books. I have a baseline.

That brings me back to the present. As of this moment, I am almost finished with the final book in the Series. Fourteen books completed, or I will be in the next couple of days. Now I'm trying to decide whether or not to write up a review of the series, or more accurately the exercise. I have some very strong opinions about my exercise. A part of me wants to write a multi part review of the series as a sort of catharsis. I'm still trying to decide whether or not to do it. If I had an actual audience here I would ask for readers' opinions. Oh well. I'll decide eventually.

Monday, November 09, 2015

This Product Had To Be Designed By An Engineer

You know the old saying, "you don't know what you've got till it's gone"? I recently had to retire my shower puff. Because of a painful lack of foresight, I have been using a washcloth until I can replace my trusty puff. All I will say is the experience is wanting.

The shower puff is a truly wonderful creation. The more I think about what I'm missing, the more I am impressed by the elegant simplicity of the humble puff. It is a true engineering marvel that had to be designed by an engineer.

Just think about it. It has male written all over it. It is really cheap. They can be picked up for about a dollar. It makes cleaning thorough. It scrubs better than a washcloth. And the puff uses less soap than a washcloth. The puff gives me more lather from less soap than what I've been using with a washcloth. Engineers love designing efficiency. The puff is efficiency incarnate.

I salute the genius responsible for the shower puff. I stand on the shoulders of a giant every time I use one to clean. Now I need to dig through the couch cushions to replace that fallen comrade. That washcloth that has been filling in just doesn't make the cut. And its starting to smell, something else a puff doesn't do.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Exercise Bike Confusion

There is an exercise bike I use at the gym, primarily because it is not a recumbent bike, that has a very confusing display. It has three categories of information it displays at a time, and you can toggle between two sets of information. The six pieces of information are, in what to me is the logical grouping, Speed, Distance, and Calories Burned in one group, and RPMs, METs, and Watts in the other group.

I group Speed, Distance and Calories together because the typical gym goer will use those real world estimations for their fitness efforts. They will do a workout based on a particular distance traveled, or target number of calories. They will gauge intensity by their estimated speed. It is a display grouping that makes sense based on a large group of people. Speed and distance particularly are a pairing of information that makes a lot of sense together. The two are essentially a combination of instantaneous speed and average speed x workout duration.

The other group is a little more of a technical set of data. METs is a term that cyclists might not use, but fitness types with a little more fitness knowledge might use it in fitness goals. They could have a goal of so many METs for a workout in a similar way to how the typical person would use distance traveled or calories. Watts is possibly the best indication of workout intensity for a bike. A good analogy would be to say that Watts are like the number of weight plates on a particular exercise machine or free weight exercise. RPMs are a good way to ensure that a particular speed is using either aerobic or anaerobic respiration as a source of fuel. Watts and RPMs together is a fairly technical set of information, and it is something more technically inclined cyclists would probably want grouped together.

Why is it confusing? It is confusing because the pairings are RPMs, Distance, and Calories paired together and Speed, METs and Watts paired together. RPMs and Watts should always be together because their utility together is better and those who will use one or the other will likely want both. Speed and Distance should be together for similar reasons. If we ignore METs and Calories, there is no reason not to have Speed and Distance together, and there is no reason not to have RPMs and Watts together. But that is exactly what is happening on this bike. Instead when I want to see Watts I have to have the display on that data grouping, and when I want to reference what pedal RPM I am at for the Watts I have to toggle the display to the other grouping. Alternately if someone else is looking at their distance traveled and want to see how fast they are going they have to toggle the grouping.

If I could have my way I would have a bike with just Time, RPMs and Watts, and a spot for Heart Rate when I am using the heart rate sensors. Those are measurements that can be reasonably accurate and tell me good workout information. I wouldn't even bother with Speed, Distance, Calories or METs. All of those are estimations at best, and Speed and Distance rarely match real world bikes. Riding an exercise bike and riding a bike are two very different experiences and activities. If you are lucky the exercise bike will match one of the gear ratios on a real world bike, but that just means you have somewhat accurate data for some of the time on a real bike. The actual workout intensity is still going to differ.

I would love to meet the person responsible for the display groupings, and ask him or her what in the world they were thinking. It almost makes me want to try the recumbent bikes to see if they are the same. Almost