Archive for January, 2010

Nudge: Recess before lunch

Nearly 95 percent of elementary schools structure the middle-of-the-day out-of-class time the same way: lunch first, then recess.

A pilot study at a school in Scottsdale, Arizona, however, found that “recess before lunch” reduced student visits to the school nurse by 40 percent, significantly decreased food waste (since students were no longer scarfing or throwing away their lunches to rush to the playground), and added 15 minutes to every school day—in part because fewer students were feeling sick, and also because the later lunch period served as a buffer between playtime and work time.

As the school’s principal said, “Kids needed a cool-down period before they could start their academic work. We saved 15 minutes every day because kids could play, then go into the cafeteria and eat and cool down, and come back to the classroom and start academic work immediately.”

Since the initial trial period of this simple scheduling change, more than half of the schools in this particular district have moved recess before lunch.

A similar experiment was conducted at four schools in Montana back in 2002—and achieved similar results. Students “wasted less food, drank more milk, and asked for more water. And as in Arizona, students were calmer when they returned to classrooms, resulting in about 10 minutes of extra teaching time.” Since then, nearly one-third of the schools in Montana have rescheduled recess to occur immediately before lunch.

Read more here.


January 27, 2010 at 7:39 am Leave a comment

NFL games lack real action—and they say baseball is a slow sport

The typical NFL football game is over 3 hours long and has just 10 minutes and 43 seconds of play.

There is actually more instant replay—16 minutes worth—than play action on the gridiron. (Games aired on ESPN have an average of 24 minutes of replay.)

From the News Hub video extra that accompanies the WSJ article “11 minutes of action,” we learn that in an average NFL football game, around 67 minutes are of players standing around (including 4 minutes of players milling around the sidelines) and 6 minutes are of coaches consulting their playbooks.

Surprisingly, cheerleaders are given only only 3 seconds (!) of airtime. NBC’s Sunday Night Football producer is quoted as saying, “We make it a point to get Dallas cheerleaders on, but otherwise, it’s not really important. If we’re doing the Jets, I couldn’t care less.”

Announcers were on camera for only 30 seconds. Injured players received 6 more seconds of airtime than players who engaged in celebration after a particularly successful or big play.

At first, I thought that the demands and dynamics of commercial media, including the need to air commercials, might explain the fact that only 1/20th of the length of a football game is of players engaged in action on the field. But a study in 1912 by a professor at Indiana University found that even then, nearly 100 years ago, the typical football game had just 13 minutes of playing time.

One reason for such little action: the 10-to-1 ratio of time spent on strategy compared to execution. The NFL has a 40 second play clock, though the average play unfolds in just 4 seconds.

Nearly the entire 90 minutes of regulation in soccer, for comparison, is full of play action.

January 27, 2010 at 5:25 am 2 comments

Hungry for Jobs

The title of Thomas Friedman’s op-ed to President Obama about the economy and education—”More (Steve) Jobs, Jobs, Jobs, Jobs“—reminded me of the celebrated commencement address made by Apple’s CEO to graduates at Stanford University in 2005.

From Friedman’s article:

To reignite his youth movement, President Obama should make sure every American kid knows about two programs that he has already endorsed: The first is National Lab Day. Introduced last November by a coalition of educators and science and engineering associations, Lab Day aims to inspire a wave of future innovators, by pairing veteran scientists and engineers with students in grades K-12 to inspire thousands of hands-on science projects around the country.

Any teacher in America, explains the entrepreneur Jack Hidary, the chairman of N.L.D., can go to the Web site and enter the science project he or she is interested in teaching, or get an idea for one. N.L.D. will match teachers with volunteer scientists and engineers in their areas for mentoring.

The president should also vow to bring the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, or NFTE, to every low-income neighborhood in America. NFTE works with middle- and high-school teachers to help them teach entrepreneurship. The centerpiece of its program is a national contest for start-ups with 24,000 kids participating. Each student has to invent a product or service, write up a business plan and then do it. NFTE ( works only in low-income areas, so many of these new entrepreneurs are minority kids.

In November, a documentary movie — “Ten9Eight” — was released that tracked a dozen students all the way through to the finals of the NFTE competition. Obama should arrange for this movie to be shown in every classroom in America. It is the most inspirational, heartwarming film you will ever see. You can obtain details about it at

This year’s three finalists, said Amy Rosen, the chief executive of NFTE, “were an immigrant’s son who took a class from H&R Block and invented a company to do tax returns for high school students, a young woman who taught herself how to sew and designed custom-made dresses, and the winner was an African-American boy who manufactured socially meaningful T-shirts.”

You want more good jobs, spawn more Steve Jobs. Obama should have focused on that from Day 1. He must focus on that for Year 2.

The trailer for Ten9Eight is here:

The full text of Steve Jobs’ commencement speech is below:

*   *   *

This is the text of the Commencement address by Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, delivered on June 12, 2005.

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: “We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?” They said: “Of course.” My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, its likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss.

I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn’t know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down – that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

My third story is about death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.

This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope its the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960’s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Thank you all very much.

Steve Jobs

January 27, 2010 at 3:06 am Leave a comment

Manthropology: T8 could beat Usain Bolt

(I had part of this post sitting in the “draft” bin since October, and was reminded of it when the the always-thoughtful and incredibly well-read Josh Leeger commented on my most recent note about the future of human speed. Thanks, Josh, for reminding me of the book and for passing along the linked articles.)

If the title of Peter McAllister’s new book doesn’t pique your curiosity, its first sentence will provoke you. In Manthropology: The Science of the Inadequate Modern Male, endearing himself to the reader is the last thing on McAllister’s agenda:

“If you’re reading this, then you—or the male you bought it for—are the worst man in history. No ifs, no buts—the worst man, period … As a class we are, in fact, the sorriest cohort of masculine Homo sapiens to ever walk the planet.”

From the Reuters article, “Modern man a wimp says anthropologist“:

Delving into a wide range of source material McAllister finds evidence he believes proves that modern man is inferior to his predecessors in, among other fields, the basic Olympic athletics disciplines of running and jumping.

An analysis of the footsteps of [an Australian aboriginal from 20,000 years ago], dubbed T8, shows he reached speeds of 37 kph on a soft, muddy lake edge. [World record holder Usain] Bolt, by comparison, reached a top speed of 42 kph during his then world 100 meters record of 9.69 seconds at last year’s Beijing Olympics. With modern training, spiked shoes and rubberized tracks, aboriginal hunters might have reached speeds of 45 kph.

Turning to the high jump, McAllister said photographs taken by a German anthropologist showed young men jumping heights of up to 2.52 meters in the early years of last century. “It was an initiation ritual, everybody had to do it. They had to be able to jump their own height to progress to manhood,” he said.

McAllister said a Neanderthal woman had 10 percent more muscle bulk than modern European man. Trained to capacity she would have reached 90 percent of [former bodybuilder and current California governor Arnold] Schwarzenegger’s bulk at his peak in the 1970s. And because she had a much shorter lower arm, she would easily beat him in an arm wrestle

Manthropology abounds with other examples:

* Roman legions completed more than one-and-a-half marathons a day carrying more than half their body weight in equipment.

* Athens employed 30,000 rowers who could all exceed the achievements of modern oarsmen.

* Australian aboriginals threw a hardwood spear 110 meters or more (the current world javelin record is 98.48).

Why the decline?

“The human body is very plastic and it responds to stress. We have lost 40 percent of the shafts of our long bones because we have much less of a muscular load placed upon them these days. We are simply not exposed to the same loads or challenges that people were in the ancient past and even in the recent past so our bodies haven’t developed. Even the level of training that we do, our elite athletes, doesn’t come close to replicating that.”

Josh passed along two great articles from the Journal of Human Evolution that were referenced in McAllister’s Manthropology:

  • “Pleistocene human footprints from the Willandra Lakes, southeastern Australia” by Steve Webb, Matthew L. Cupper, and Richard Robins. Available online or as a PDF download. Abstact: Human and other hominid fossil footprints provide rare but important insights into anatomy and behavior. Here we report recently discovered fossil trackways of human footprints from the Willandra Lakes region of western New South Wales, Australia. Optically dated to between 19–23 ka and consisting of at least 124 prints, the trackways form the largest collection of Pleistocene human footprints in the world. The prints were made by adults, adolescents, and children traversing the moist surface of an ephemeral soak. This site offers a unique glimpse of humans living in the arid inland of Australia at the height of the last glacial period.
  • “Further research of the Willandra Lakes fossil footprint site, southeastern Australia” by Steve Webb. Available online or as a PDF download. Abstract: This paper presents further results from continuing research on a large fossil human footprint site dated to between 23–19 ka and located in the Willandra World Heritage Area, western New South Wales, Australia. It follows publication of initial investigations undertaken in 2003–2004 (S. Webb, M.L. Cupper and R. Robins, Pleistocene human footprints from Willandra Lakes, southeastern Australia, J. Hum. Evol. 50 (2006), pp. 405–413). That paper described the discovery of 123 adult and juvenile footprints, including eight individual trackways across a paleowetland close to one of a series of fossil lakes. Here I report the discovery of additional trackways and other marks from further excavation. The work has broadened our understanding of the activities of Ice Age groups inhabiting the region, as well as the environment in which they lived.

(Josh Leeger briefly reviewed Manthropology here.)

January 25, 2010 at 7:23 pm 11 comments

The future of human speed: As fast as a pronghorn

A new paper in the Journal of Applied Physiology suggests elite human sprinters may be able to reach speeds as great as 40 MPH. (For comparison, Usain Bolt reached speeds of 28 MPH in his world-record setting Olympic efforts). Here’s the abstract of “The biological limits to running speed are imposed from the ground up“:

Running speed is limited by a mechanical interaction between the stance and swing phases of the stride. Here, we tested whether stance phase limitations are imposed by ground force maximums or foot-ground contact time minimums. We selected one-legged hopping and backward running as experimental contrasts to forward running, and had seven athletic subjects complete progressive discontinuous treadmill tests to failure to determine their top speeds in each of the three gaits.

Vertical ground reaction forces (in body weights; Wb) and periods of ground force application (Tc; s) were measured using a custom, high-speed force treadmill. At top speed, we found that both the stance-averaged (Favg) and peak (Fpeak) vertical forces applied to the treadmill surface during one-legged hopping exceeded those applied during forward running by more than one-half of the body’s weight [Favg = 2.71 ± 0.15 vs. 2.08 ± 0.07 Wb; Fpeak = 4.20 ± 0.24 vs. 3.62 ± 0.24 Wb±sem] and that hopping periods of force application were significantly longer [Tc = 0.160 ± 0.006 vs. 0.108 ± 0.004 s].

Next, we found that the periods of ground force application at top backward and forward running speeds were nearly identical, agreeing to within an average of 0.006 s [Tc = 0.116 ± 0.004 s vs. 0.110 ± 0.005 s]. We conclude that the stance phase limit to running speed is imposed, not by the maximum forces that the limbs can apply to the ground, but rather by the minimum time needed to apply the large, mass-specific forces necessary.

ScienceToday has a great summary of the article here.

January 23, 2010 at 2:31 am 2 comments

Too much is never enough

When it comes to exercise, there is no such thing as too much of a good thing.

This is the takeaway from the research of Dr. Paul Williams, who in the last 20 years has studied the relationship between exercise dosage/volume of aerobic activity and health in more than 100,000 runners.

In the WSJ article, “Why You Should Step Up Your Workout,” Kevin Helliker reports that

Dr. Williams’s most noted research dates back to 1991, when he used a subscription list from Runner’s World magazine to identify a cohort of about 55,000 runners. In the years that followed, he doubled that number by recruiting participants at running and walking events. Calling his project the National Runners’ Health Study, Dr. Williams began dispatching surveys asking runners to describe in great detail their running regimens, their demographics and their medical histories.

The National Runners’ Health Study has produced more than 40 published articles. From the outset, a one-word theme emerged from his findings: more. An early study, for instance, found that male distance runners gained weight with age unless they added mileage.

Current federal guidelines recommend about 30 minutes of physical activity per day. Dr. Williams, however, wants to up the ante.

Dr. Williams’ studies have shown that exceeding the federally recommended exercise guidelines can reduce the risk of stroke, heart attack, glaucoma, diabetes and other diseases by as much as 70% above the benefits of merely meeting the guidelines. “There is no gene or drug discovery that comes close” to the effects of more and more-vigorous exercise, says Dr. Williams, a staff scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley Calif.

Public health officials are afraid of acting on Dr. Williams’ research, however, out of a fear that any campaign to increase exercise intensity and volume would intimidate an already sedentary population.

While Dr. Williams is well respected by other exercise scientists, he is shunned by those in the public-health field. Dr. Williams is routinely excluded from committees charged with formulating exercise guidelines, and his grant proposals are often rejected as irrelevant because few exercisers want to hear the word “more.” Public-health officials also worry that touting Dr. Williams’s research could discourage the sedentary from doing any exercise at all, or lure them off the couch with goals too lofty to engender success.

Read more here and here.

January 22, 2010 at 5:54 am 1 comment

Predicting Olympic medal counts is pure economics, an all-White basketball league, and the IOC wrestles with sex ambiguity

Interesting news from the sports world…

Daniel Johnson makes remarkably accurate Olympic medal predictions. But he doesn’t look at individual athletes or their events. The Colorado College economics professor considers just a handful of economic variables to come up with his prognostications.

The result: Over the past five Olympics, from the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney through the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, Johnson’s model demonstrated 94% accuracy between predicted and actual national medal counts. For gold medal wins, the correlation is 87%.

His forecast model predicts a country’s Olympic performance using per-capita income (the economic output per person), the nation’s population, its political structure, its climate and the home-field advantage for hosting the Games or living nearby. “It’s just pure economics,” Johnson says. “I know nothing about the athletes. And even if I did, I didn’t include it.” More here.

The All-American Basketball Alliance announced in a news release Sunday evening that it intends to start its inaugural season in June. “Only players that are natural born United States citizens with both parents of Caucasian race are eligible to play in the league,” the statement said.

Don “Moose” Lewis, the commissioner of the AABA, said the reasoning behind the league’s roster restrictions is not racism. “There’s nothing hatred about what we’re doing,” he said. “I don’t hate anyone of color. But people of white, American-born citizens are in the minority now. Here’s a league for white players to play fundamental basketball, which they like.”

Lewis said he wants to emphasize fundamental basketball instead of “street-ball” played by “people of color.” He pointed out recent incidents in the NBA, including Gilbert Arenas’ indefinite suspension after bringing guns into the Washington Wizards locker room, as examples of fans’ dissatisfaction with the way current professional sports are run. More here.

A panel of medical experts convened by the International Olympic Committee recommended Wednesday that the issue of athletes whose sex seems ambiguous be treated as a medical concern and not one of fairness in competition.

The panel’s recommendations were criticized by some athletes, who said that athletes with masculinizing disorders are so different from other women that their presence in competition is unfair.

Forget about level playing fields, said Dr. Myron Genel of Yale. “For a lot of us here, there is no such thing,” he said. “We were told at
the meeting about a Finnish family that was extraordinarily successful in cross-country skiing. They were found to have a genetic disorder that provided them higher levels of hemoglobin, and therefore they had superior oxygen-carrying capability. Specific genetic defects provide advantages.” More here.

January 22, 2010 at 2:17 am 1 comment

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Jason R. Atwood

I'm an avid trail runner and doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley who studies motivation and the relationship between the mind and body. This blog is a forum to share research, news, and musings about these topics of interest. More

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