Things I learned this week #24

  • This fitness research: I've long been a fan of interval training to help improve my running and cycling speed. High intensity interval training (HIIT) is a method of training where you mix short bursts of intense activity (e.g. a 30 second sprint) between longer periods of low-intensity exercise (e.g. 90 seconds slow jog). It's time-efficient, evidence-backed, and makes me uncomfortably sweaty so it must be good. Our current guess is that by pushing through into very high intensity activity you trigger different physiological responses, compared to sustained moderate exercise. It turns out it might also be useful for less active, older adults - not just younger people and athletes. Some researchers at the University of Texas looked at a HIIT regime with just 4 seconds of exercise in a sixty second interval (4 seconds on, 56 seconds off), repeated fifteen times back-to-back. So fifteen minutes total, just sixty seconds of high intensity exercise. The researchers worked with both young adults (no age mentioned) and older adults (50-68 years old) and found that and found improvements to their strength and performance after three sessions a week over eight weeks. This is great news if you're looking to make the most of your exercise, but not great news if you hate running/cycling so fast you feel like you could be sick. (source)
  • These sheep: North Ronaldsay is a three-mile long island off the Scottish coast which used to be moderately populated (a couple of hundred people) and sustained by the seaweed which would wash ashore from the stormy North Sea. In the nineteenth and twentieth century we would burn seaweed for potash - a valuable industrial ingredient. We've moved on from burning seaweed for potash, so the while island is still populated by seventy two people, it's also the home to some pretty unique sheep. Sheep love to eat things, like peoples' crops, so in 1832 the residents of North Ronaldsay constructed a two-metre high drystone wall (also the longest single drystone wall in the world, by the way) to confine the sheep to part of the shore. Nearly two hundred years later, and the sheep have adapted to life on the coast of a tiny island in the North Sea - mainly by eating seaweed instead of grass (or peoples' crops). They remain some of the few pure English-bread sheep stock in the world, and also they look incredibly grizzly. Seriously, go look at some pictures of them, they totally look like an old haggard Scottish shepherd. (source)
  • This vegetarian cereal inventor: John Harvey Kellogg (of Corn Flake fame), born in 1852 (i.e. twenty years after that dry stone wall), was one of America's early popular proponents of a meat-free diet. It's the reason he was dead keen on getting nutritional plant-based foods out there, despite his first recipes being incredibly bland and basically gruel. He wasn't vegetarian for the environmental or animal rights reasons that many associate with vegetarianism today. No no. He believed that a diet rich in meat was too full of fat and rich flavours (this is often the argument people give as to why they "could never go vegetarian", so maybe work on your marketing, John). Kellogg believes that these irresistible flavours were basically making us too horny. Meat increased our sexual appetite, and therefore eroded our moral fibre. These beliefs actually pre-date the man's cereal infamy, and he opened the Battle Creek Sanitarium, a sort of health retreat / rehab centre / healthcare facility - but two hundred years before the term "wellness retreat" really became popular. Here, he evangelised a plant-based diet and outdoor exercise. While there he ended up boiling some wheat, and thought "this bland mush is so boring but healthy I bet it's great for your soul and wouldn't make anyone horny" - or something like that. So yeah, now we have Corn Flakes and Cocopops. (source)
  • This CV of one of Parler's Founders: Parler is (was?, no wait, is) a Twitter-clone social media for people on the right of the political spectrum. The appeal comes from years of claims that Twitter was suppressing free speech. It's not that spending four years posting increasingly inflammatory and violent rhetoric isn't inherently appealing to social media. No. Twitter is hiding your tweets. So Parler was founded by a software engineer (John Matze) and billionaire heiress Rebekah Mercer. Some fun facts about Mercer, and why you should definitely trust her to run a tight ship: i) she owned a bakery in New York in the mid 2000s (and apparently made awful cookies), ii) she never does public interviews, and iii) she (and her father) were invested heavily in Cambridge Analytica (that unethical, and arguably illegal, data mining company). No, I'm sure she's got all the bona fides to manage a social media company where "there are going to be no fact checkers", and they can quickly handle the pivot after being de-platformed from the vast majority of the internet. (source)

What I've Had on Rotation

  • Something New: SUCKAPUNCH by You Me at Six (rock/pop punk, 2021) . The band's seventh studio album is the first in a couple of years to make me feel like You Me At Six made me feel in 2013. The slightly electronic, punky, rocky vibe (a la their cohort Panic! At the Disco, All American Rejects, et. al) of SUCKAPUNCH has the high energy, and distinct Essex vocals of Josh Franceschi that make it lovable. (link)
  • Something Old: Have a Nice Life by Murs (hip hop, 2015). Last week I recommended Murs' 2004 album, and the difference in production and content between these two is notable. An altogether more mature and even sometimes humble album, that has an absolutely fantastic golden era classic beat production. This one's going on my list of classic. It's not surprising I love this sound, Murs is currently collaborating with Slug and Eligh - two of the first rappers I loved when I first discovered hip hop. Anyway, this album is really great you should listen to it. (link)

Cool Articles

  • Here are some (entirely serious) predictions about tech in 2021 by Matt Reynolds for Wired. This delightful little satirical piece riffs on some of the zeitgeist/pop culture moments from 2020, which exist regardless of pandemics. My favourite is the prediction that in December 2021 we discover an asteroid on a collision course for earth, meaning that "existential panic can resume as scheduled". Very good.
  • Longevity Linked to Proteins That Calm Overexcited Neurons by Veronique Greenwood for Quanta Magazine. This is a neat little piece of science journalism covering something published in Nature in 2019: that mice and worms with higher concentration REST (a protein which slows neural firing) have longer lifespans. There's a couple of really nice mental models in the piece, which slightly re-framed the ageing process for me. Notably the idea that ageing is a process where the body loses the ability to maintain equilibrium. It is not able to respond to environmental (or social, or cognitive, or whatever) stressors and return to a baseline "normal" state.