what did i miss part 3

A few of the stuff that’s happened over the past 2 weeks during nano, part 3. Sports and drinks, not sports drinks, two separate topics.

1a. marathons #1 — elites

The headlines all shouted “Galen Rupp is first American winner of the Chicago Marathon since 2002.” And although some of them clarifies that it’s the first American male since 2002 (last American female was Deena Kastor in 2005) it still feels like a huge, huge disservice to Tatyana McFadden, who has won the women’s wheelchair race fo the past seven years. I swear, paralympic athletes get an even worse deal than women athletes, the sort of media attention they get, ie zero. Not to take away Rupp’s victory, but the blatant inequality really needs to be addressed.

In the NYC marathon, Meb, in his last NYC, finished in 2:15:29, putting the 42 year old in 11th place. The women’s race was won by Shalane Flanagan. So the two big autumn US marathons both had American able-bodied winners. That’s good for the US. Much needed good news for them.

In unrelated news, Mo Farah is moving up to the marathon. And he got knighted. Yay Sir Mo!!


1b. marathons #2 — blind solo runner

Simon Wheatcroft finished the NYC marathon in 5:17:40. An unremarkable time, but what’s truly remarkable is that he is a blind runner who ran the race solo.

I ran a night race a couple of years ago and there were a number of visually impaired runners. They were just as fast and just as good as able-bodied runners. The route was through part of the country park so the terrain was rough with narrow and winding paths; the runners and their guides negotiated those with ease and I could hear the guides telling the runners to make a right turn or there is a hump coming up. I’m full of admiration for them, as I am with all paralympic athletes.

Wheatcroft suffers from a rare genetic disorder called retinitis pigmentosa, and his sight has gradually deteriorated since he was a teenager. Nowadays, he can distinguish changes in light and darkness, like seeing the world through a fog. He knows when someone stands in front of him, because he sees a blurry shadow, but that’s it. He is also an experienced runner, marathoner and ultramarathoner, previously running with guides and trains by running up and down a straight abandoned road near his home in Doncaster. He memorises routes, obstacles, and navigate along the slightly raised edges of painted double yellow lines along the road.

In recent years, there have been massive inroads made in providing assisted technologies to help visually impaired people “see” by using AI and VR technologies. However, these type of technologies are limited–it requires outside help, or only work in static situations. For instance, a google glass subscription called aira connects the blind person and a sighted person so the sighted assistant can give verbal clues to tell the blind person what they are seeing through the glasses. The subscription costs US$349 per month, which is really expensive. Most assisted technology solutions are built around some sort of visual input and an audio output, but audio output is cumbersome. The Verge:

Imagine a Siri or Alexa-like interface describing every single object in your field of vision. Consider the cognitive overload that it would create on an already loud street crowded with obstacles.

wearworks

Wheatcroft set out to look for alternatives and came across Wayband, a product from a company called WearWorks that uses haptic technology, which provides output through the sense of touch rather than audio. The company was cofounded by 3 graduates of New York’s Pratt Institute and just finished a 3 year residency at Brooklyn’s Urban-X incubator. Wayband was featured at SXSW and uses two technologies. First, it uses known GPS technology (google maps, OpenStreetMap) to map a route for the runner, the signal is transmitted via bluetooth using an armband which buzzes in a sort of Morse code (eg 2 long taps to turn right). This pairs with an ultrasonic device called the Tortoise that broadcasts and receives ultrasonic pulses. If there is an object or person in range, the ultrasonic waves that reflect back are changed and the device lets the user know using a series of vibrations. This is not new, devices that help people park their cars use similar ultrasonic technology.

During the NYC marathon, Wheatcroft started by using this system, the first time it had been tested in a race. And what a way to test. Not a small local race, but one of the largest marathons in the world, with more than 50,000 runners. During the race he was also accompanied by Kevin Yoo, one of the founders of WearWorks as well as Neil Bacon and Andrea Corak, his longtime friends and guides. They ran behind him and were there as a last resort, to prevent him from running into another runner and ruining their marathon.

It wasn’t perfect: tall buildings affected the GPS which incorrectly told him he was off course, the rain caused the Tortoise to stop working at mile 15, and at one of the water stops another runner stopped abruptly in front of him. Even a sighted runner would have found it difficult to stop in time and there was a small collision. Neither runner was hurt. The team ended the race with guides running next to Wheatcroft as per usual, but the experiment was by and large successful. There is still a way to go before the product can be marketed but the team now knows what those improvements are.

The implications are huge. Not only for running or sports, this system can help a blind person navigate through normal life. Wheatcroft on NYT:

It’s not the end, it’s just a start.”


1c. marathons #3 — grass root runner

The running bubble has popped, says the NYT on the day of the NYC marathon. A strange thing to say, considering 50,000 participated and the success rate for applications was 17%. I got my annual VLM rejection in October, so from my perspective the running bubble hasn’t quite popped.

Thing is, although interest in the big races have held steady, less well known races and shorter distance races have seen a decline in participation. Some reasons:

  • cost — gone are the days of US$10 or $25 races, now the cost is astronomical, Las Vegas RNR 5k is $79.99!
  • too much focus on charity running — while an honourable effort, it has become blackmail with too few places available for non-charity runners and huge amounts that needs to be raised
  • too many races, and competition from speciality races like mud runs
  • competition from other fitness activities like cross fit

The industry has become a victim of its own success and commercialisation. Once a race gets taken over by corporate interests, something goes missing. Not only will I not pay $80 for a 5k, I won’t ever run a RNR race again whatever the price because they have become pure greed. I remember a long time ago an ex-colleague asked me if I was running the NYC marathon and I said it’s too expensive ($295 now). She was so surprised, she thought it was free and you just showed up. I wish.

I’ve written about charity running before. TL;DR: I hate it with the venom of a million exploding suns.

What we need, is a return to grassroots. Running clubs are still popular and just look at the success of parkruns in the UK. Another reason I want to go back to the UK.


2a. drinks #1 — alcohol and cancer

The American Society of Clinical Oncological published a report that says even light drinking can cause cancer. Yet another study that tells us not to eat or drink something, so much so that there was a study on the study of what foods are bad for us–in 2013 researchers took 40 ingredients from an ordinary cookbook and found 264 studies on whether at least one of those ingredients causes cancer. We’re talking about ingredients that are in almost everybody’s cupboards: salt, pepper, flour, egg, bread, butter, lemon, onion, carrot, milk, cheese.

We know that heavy or even moderate drinking has detrimental effects. The report says in the US, 3.5% of cancer deaths are attributable to alcohol. But as the NYT says in a more-or-less rebuttal:

this means that 96.5 percent of cancer deaths are not attributable to alcohol. If we eliminate heavy drinking, which no one endorses as healthy…that number climbs. If we also eliminate those who smoke…the number of cancer deaths not attributable to alcohol approaches 100 percent.

These reports mean well, but they tend to be self-fulfilling prophecies and then the media reports them using scaremongering headlines. The traditional image of a researcher is someone who observes or achieves some results and then postulates a theory that explains those results. There are researchers that are basically reverse-researchers, they know what result they want and then they do so-called research till they get those results. I call them hacks.


2b. drinks #2 — bartending in antarctica

antarcticabar

Interesting article about bars in Antarctica. There are 45 research stations in Antarctica, with thousands of researchers there in the summer but only a few hundred during the winter. Each station has its own bar with names like Gallagher’s Pub, Southern Exposure, Tatty Flag. The bars had no owners, no official hours, and no price. People shared their stash of personal alcohol and were in luck when one of the researchers also have bartending skills. Bartending in Antarctica is voluntary and requires creativity and innovation, as not all ingredients are available. The good thing is, no fridge is needed, just put the stuff outside.

Drinking can be a problem in Antarctica, because of the monotony of life, especially in the winter months. The bars became social focus points, and bartenders did the job all other bartenders do all over the world. One bartending researcher said he:

swapped out soda for booze when people drank too much…and kept them inside the bar rather than watching them stumble out the door where, completely inebriated, they could hurt themselves or pass out in the snow.


2c. drinks #3 — escape from IPA

escapefromipa

I do quick research during nano and I came across this beer called Escape from IPA from Pipeworks brewery in Chicago. What I found hilarious is the label, which is in line with all their other labels. Look at that Han Solo pirate escaping helicopters and red F1 racing cars, kinda comic book cliché.

With a name like Escape from IPA, it suggests that it’s the anti-IPA (scourge of craft beers). But it’s actually a 10% West Coast styled triple IPA made from 3 hops with the fancy names of Equinox, Galaxy, and Centennial.

Some people bet on racehorses based on their names or the colour of their jockey’s shirt. This is definitely one instance where people may pick a beer based on name or garish label. That’s exactly what my character did.


2d. drinks #4 — free beer while shopping

So a Morrisons in Leeds started offering free beer to shoppers while they go about their weekly shop. Not just beer, they have cider and wine too. The beer they serve is Saltaire Blonde ale from a local brewery.

morrisonsbeer

It’s a whole pint, according to the daily mail (not linking to that drek). Sounds like a good idea, except I’d prefer half or 1/3 pints because of drinking and driving. They should put the featured beer on its own display stand and study how sales increase. I’m very sure more people will buy it because they are given a sample.