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Thursday, May 13, 2021

Review: Source Wxp 3L Storm Valve Hydration Reservoir

 Ever since the 2019 trip to Bavaria, I've been jealous of Boen's hydration reservoir, mostly because of its cap. The cap means that when I take off the hydration pack and drop it on the floor, nothing gets dirty. The easy fill slide-off closure was also very appealing. I noticed that Source had 3L hydration bladders available, so I bought one.

To my surprise, the adult bladder is actually better. First of all, it has both a slide-off closure and a cap, and I found myself using to cap so I didn't have to remove the bladder from the backpack. The click-off and click-on valve also made removing the bladder a cinch. The cap is also improved --- the internal drink-valve is a water bottle style nozzle, which mean that you didn't have to twist it or bite it in order to get water --- you could pull it open with your teeth and if there was sufficient water pressure in the bladder water would come out siphon-fashion. You do have to watch out because if you don't close the nozzle when done, it will continuously leak your water away. But this also means that if you need to, you can produce a stream of water by squeezing the backpack.

My cheapness meant that I held off on this upgrade for far too long. Should have done it as soon as I started mountain biking and having to carry a backpack. Recommended.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Review: Peak - Secrets from the New Science of Expertise

 To say that Anders Ericsson, the author of Peak, is a legend would be an understatement. Over the years, his name has come up in various books I've read, from Talent is Overrated to Moonwalking with Einstein. I'm glad he finally decided to tell stories about his research rather than have someone else tell it for him, even though the examples he used, like the one about Laszlo and Klara Polgar raising three sisters who all became chess grandmasters have been widely told about and used.

True to his research, Ericsson is vehement that deliberate practice is what separates the good from the great. In fact, he notes that the better and best students sleep much more because they work so hard at their practice that they become worn out:

The best and the better students averaged around five hours more of sleep per week than the good students, mostly by taking more time for afternoon naps. All of the students in the study—the good students, the better, and the best—spent about the same amount of time each week on leisure activities, but the best students were much better at estimating how much time they spent on leisure, which indicates that they made more of an effort to plan their time. Good planning can help you avoid many of the things that might lead you to spend less time on practice than you wanted. (Pg. 170)

He notes that music and sports are where all the research is done, because the objective criteria via competitions and selection are stable and not as subject to chance. We know this isn't true, since Producing Excellence kicks off with a story indicating that politics and rigged competition in those fields is the norm. (Though my suspicion is that to win a rigged competition you still have to be good enough for it to be plausible)  Ericsson notes that even if it was true that talent played an important part, believing in deliberate practice was better for you since it would encourage you to work hard.

Ericsson trots out study after study about the effect deliberate practice has on your brain, from taxi cab drivers in London to musicians to poly-lingual kids. One interesting note is that those brain changes are most obvious in people who've studied or started their practice as kids. One exception is mathematicians and scientists who start out much older than their peers in other fields, and so frequently are inspired by great teachers rather than their parents.

The true contribution that this book provides is the notion of providing opportunities for deliberate practice during the work day --- giving employees and team members leeway during presentations to deliberately work on one aspect or another of their presentation skills and then providing immediate feedback. That's a great idea. Another great idea is the discussion of physics education at UBC, where a professor and his team showed that a skill-based approach to teaching as opposed to the traditional lecture system worked much better at teaching physics (and is applicable to other fields such as computer science and math). Those two chapters are probably worth the price of the book alone. What's interesting about that approach to teaching that Ericsson doesn't mention is that the students in those classes think they learn less with this approach!

All in all, deliberate practice is uncomfortable and should leave you feeling drained. One of the big implications is that if you want to deliberately incorporate a culture that values it in a company, you cannot value face-time over effectiveness --- if your employees need to take naps in the afternoon that means they're pushing themselves to the limit. Unfortunately, much as that article about students thinking they learned less with active learning, I suspect managers will think that employees are working less!

Regardless, the book provides much food for thought and many interesting stories. Well worth your time.

Thursday, May 06, 2021

Review: Gotham by Gaslight

 The reveal in the animated version of Gotham by Gaslight was impressive, so I checked out the book from the library. With art by Mike Mignola and P. Craig Russell, I expected a lot. I was actually disappointed by the writing and the setting --- it's a short read but it doesn't bring anything to Batman mythos, nor does it explore the character in interesting ways. One of the rare examples where the movie is actually better than the book. Hard pass.

Monday, May 03, 2021

Review: Extreme Medicine

 Extreme Medicine is a book about how exploration transformed medicine and vice-versa, and starts off with the discussion of Robert F Scott's death in Antarctica and tying it to the survival of Anna Bagenholm, one of the first people who'd survived due to deep cold conditions. The author, Kevin Fong is an MD and I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of the book, but upon reflection realized that Robert F Scott had nothing to do with Bagenholm's survival!

The same sequence would happen all through the book in the early chapters, detailing burn victims, and then you hit smack-dab into the section on the ICU, which has a discussion of the original SARS epidemic and but has zero content about  how the various devices in the ICU works and also noted that the SARS epidemic was won by public health, not by heroic interventions in the ICU. Sure, the ICU saved lives, but as the recent SARS-Cov2 virus showed, no amount of ICU intervention will prevent large numbers of death if your public health infrastructure has fallen down.

Hence, you get a great discussion of the invention of ventilators, only to realize (and to his credit Fong acknowledges that) the polio epidemics was only ended by vaccines.

Only the final few chapters have anything to do with exploration --- the one on traveling to Mars and NASA's repeated attempt at artificial gravity does actually seem like inventions designed to facilitate exploration, as well as the solar flare protection plans. But boy, that's 1 chapter in a book that otherwise never ties its content to its title.

Fong is a good presenter (apparently he's  TV personality in the UK), and writes well. The prose is reasonably interesting, but I'd recommend several other medical-related books over this one.